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Israel-Hamas war: Gantz to meet Harris, Blinken on US visit

Published March 4, 2024last updated March 4, 2024

Israeli War Cabinet member Benny Gantz is set to meet top US officials in Washington, reportedly without the permission of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Benny Gantz und Antony Blinken shake hands, November 30, 2023.
Israel's wartime unity has cracked, with divisions within the government over the path forward in GazaImage: Chuck Kennedy/U.S State/Planet Pix/ZUMA/picture alliance
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • Israeli War Cabinet member Benny Gantz visits Washington, reportedly defying Netanyahu
  • US VP Kamala Harris urges "immediate cease-fire" in Gaza for at least next six weeks 
  • White House official Amos Hochstein to visit Lebanon to prevent escalation

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Skip next section Israel says over 450 UNRWA employees in Gaza are 'military operatives'
March 4, 2024

Israel says over 450 UNRWA employees in Gaza are 'military operatives'

Israel's military has accused the UN's aid agency UNRWA of employing hundreds of militants in Gaza. The military said that Israel has shared this information with the United Nations.

"Over 450 UNRWA employees are military operatives in terror groups in Gaza. Over 450. This is no mere coincidence. This is systematic," military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said.

"We sent the information that I am sharing now, as well as further intelligence, to our international partners, including the UN," he added.

In January, Israel said that at least 13 UNRWA employees were involved in the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. The agency fired the employees, but several countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan, suspended funding to UNRWA following the Israeli allegations.

UNRWA employs around about 13,000 staff in the Gaza Strip.

Skip next section US calls on Hamas to accept terms of cease-fire
March 4, 2024

US calls on Hamas to accept terms of cease-fire

The White House said a temporary cease-fire in Gaza was essential to a hostage deal. It called on Hamas to accept the terms currently on the table as talks to secure a truce were underway in Cairo.

Negotiators are scrambling to secure the extended in time for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which will begin on Sunday.

Israel has previously threatened to launch their ground offensive on Rafah if Israeli hostages are not freed by Ramadan. Last week, US President Joe Biden said Israel would be willing to pause their military operations during the Muslim holy month within the framework of a cease-fire that would also include freeing some of the hostages.

Egypt and Qatar serve as intermediaries between Hamas and Israel, which do not talk to each other directly. Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by many countries, including Israel, Germany and the US.

Skip next section Israel recalls UN ambassador, decries UN's stance on Hamas sexual attacks
March 4, 2024

Israel recalls UN ambassador, decries UN's stance on Hamas sexual attacks

Israel said it had recalled its ambassador to the United Nations for "immediate consultations" over what Israeli officials described as a UN attempt to "silence" information about Hamas sexual violence

"I have ordered our Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, to return to Israel for immediate consultations following the attempt to silence" information "on the mass rapes committed by Hamas and its collaborators on October 7," Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on X, formerly Twitter.

In a new report, the UN envoy on sexual violence in conflict said that there are "reasonable grounds" to believe that Hamas committed rape, "sexualized torture" and other cruel and inhuman treatment of women during its surprise attack in southern Israel on October 7.

Katz criticized UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for not convening the Security Council to discuss this information and for not declaring Hamas a terrorist organization.

In a separate statement, ambassador Erdan said: "It took the UN five months to finally recognize the shocking sexual crimes committed during the Hamas attack on October 7.

"Now that the report on the sexual atrocities and sexual abuse that our hostages in Gaza are going through, the shameful silence by the UN that is not holding even one discussion on the issue screams to the heavens."

The UN special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, is due to present the report publicly later on Monday.

Sexual violence in Hamas attacks planned, researcher says

Skip next section Ship near Yemen on fire after explosions
March 4, 2024

Ship near Yemen on fire after explosions

A fire caused by nearby explosions broke out onboard a ship sailing in the Gulf of Aden near Yemen, according to the UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency and British security firm Ambrey.

The crew was fighting the fire, and no casualties were reported, the British maritime agency said.

"Coalition Forces operating in the area are investigating," UKMTO added.

Ambrey said a container ship had been hit and sent a distress signal, adding the Liberia-flagged, Israeli-owned vessel was heading from Singapore to Djibouti. Neither agency released the name of the ship.

The US has previously formed an international coalition aimed at protecting commercial traffic in the Red Sea region from attacks by Iran-backed Houthi militants . The Houthis say they are carrying out the attacks in solidarity with Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

The cargo ship Rubymar sank on Friday, the first loss since the Houthis began their attacks in November.

Warnings of environmental disaster as ship sinks in Red Sea after Houthi rebel attack

Skip next section US envoy warns of escalation at Lebanon-Israel border
March 4, 2024

US envoy warns of escalation at Lebanon-Israel border

US special envoy Amos Hochstein said a cease-fire in Gaza would not necessarily mean an automatic end to hostilities on Lebanon's southern border. He warned of the dangers of escalating the conflict.

Hochstein's visit to Beirut is part of diplomatic efforts to end the four-month exchange of fire between Hezbollah and Israel, a conflict that has run parallel to the Gaza war.

"Escalation of violence is in no one's interest, and there is no such thing as a limited war," he told reporters after meeting Lebanon's parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who is close to Hezbollah. Hochstein said friction on the border had increased in recent weeks.

"A temporary cease-fire is not enough. A limited war is not containable," he said.

Hezbollah has publicly indicated that it would stop attacking Israel from Lebanon if Israel's offensive in Gaza stopped unless Israel continued to bomb Lebanon.

But Hochstein said a cease-fire in Gaza would not automatically trigger calm in southern Lebanon. He said he was "hopeful" for a diplomatic solution to the conflict across the border.

Skip next section Israel conducts largest raid in Ramallah in years
March 4, 2024

Israel conducts largest raid in Ramallah in years

The Israeli army said it carried out a "six-hour anti-terrorist operation" in the Amari refugee camp near Ramallah in the West Bank.

Violence broke out during the deployment. According to the military, Israeli soldiers were attacked with rocks and Molotov cocktails. Security forces responded with live rounds.

Israeli security forces detained two wanted suspects during the operation, the army said. It added that other suspects were questioned, and "incitement material distributed by Hamas" was confiscated.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Israeli forces shot and killed 16-year-old Mustafa Abu Shalbak during a raid on the Am'ari refugee camp.

According to the Palestinian news agency WAFA, confrontations broke out when Israeli forces stormed the camp, "during which live bullets were fired at Palestinian youths," wounding Abu Shalbak in the neck and chest.

Witnesses in Ramallah said Israeli forces drove dozens of military vehicles into the city. It was their biggest raid there in years, Palestinian sources said. Ramallah is the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, which exercises limited self-rule over parts of the West Bank.

Skip next section 1 killed, 7 wounded in missile strike on northern Israel — emergency service
March 4, 2024

1 killed, 7 wounded in missile strike on northern Israel — emergency service

Israel's national emergency service, Magen David Adom, says that one person has been killed and seven wounded in an anti-tank missile attack in the northern Galilee, close to the border with Lebanon.

Two of those injured were in serious condition, four moderate, and one mild, according to the report.

It said that the casualties were all foreign nationals working on a plantation.

Magen David Adom earlier said that it had received reports that two Thai workers had been wounded

It said that one of the victims was a 30-year-old man in serious condition and another 29-year-old old man in mild condition.

Israel's Galilee region borders southern Lebanon, which is controlled by the Hezbollah militant group. Hostilities have been raging between Hezbollah and Israeli forces since the start of the war against Hamas on October 7.

Skip next section UN rights chief Volker Türk warns of 'powder keg' In Gaza conflict
March 4, 2024

UN rights chief Volker Türk warns of 'powder keg' In Gaza conflict

UN human rights chief Volker Türk warned that the conflict between Israel and Hamas could lead to a broader conflagration with global implications.

"I am deeply concerned that in this powder keg, any spark could lead to a much broader conflagration," Türk said.

"This would have implications for every country in the Middle East, and many beyond it."

He described the hostilities between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah as "extremely worrying."

Israel and Hezbollah have been exchanging fire across southern Lebanon since the war began in Gaza. Israel has said that it would carry on its operations against Hezbollah even if there were a cease-fire with Hamas.

"It is imperative to do everything possible to avoid a wider conflagration," he said.

Last week, the UN human rights chief said that war crimes had been committed by all parties in the conflict, adding that they should be investigated and those responsible held accountable.

Skip next section Death toll rises to 30,534 in Gaza
March 4, 2024

Death toll rises to 30,534 in Gaza

At least 30,534 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Israel launched its offensive against the Palestinian militant group Hamas on October 7, the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave said on Monday.

A ministry statement said there were 124 fatalities over the past 24 hours.

Some 71,980 people have been wounded in nearly five months of conflict, it added.

The ministry, whose figures are deemed as largely accurate by the United Nations, among others, does not differentiate between militants and civilians in the casualty statistics it provides.

Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip came in response to deadly raids by Hamas in the south of Israel in which more than 1,100 Israelis died, mostly civilians.

Skip next section Senior White House adviser to visit Beirut in bid to de-escalate Israel-Hezbollah tensions
March 4, 2024

Senior White House adviser to visit Beirut in bid to de-escalate Israel-Hezbollah tensions

Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden, will visit Beirut on Monday for talks to de-escalate tensions on the Israel-Lebanon border.

Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has been trading fire with Israeli forces along the Lebanon-Israel border daily since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7.

Israel launched its operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip after the Palestinian militant group attacked Israeli communities and killed more than 1,100 people.

Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, has said it will not halt its fire until there is a cease-fire in Gaza but would observe a truce if one is reached.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has vowed to step up attacks on Hezbollah, even if a cease-fire is reached with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, until the militant group withdraws from the border area. Hezbollah is also backed by Iran. The fighting has killed civilians in both Lebanon and Israel.  

Both Hamas and Hezbollah are designated terrorist organizations by Israel, the US and Germany, among others.

How Hezbollah secures its power inside Lebanon

Skip next section US VP Harris calls for 'immediate cease-fire' for at least six weeks
March 4, 2024

US VP Harris calls for 'immediate cease-fire' for at least six weeks

US Vice President Kamala Harris called for an "immediate cease-fire" in a speech at an event to commemorate the 59th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama.

"Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate cease-fire for at least the next six weeks, which is what is currently on the table," Harris said. Her remarks were met with cheers and applause. 

"People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane, and our common humanity compels us to act... The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses," she added.

In Egypt, talks were underway on Saturday and Sunday toward a truce before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins next week. The Hamas militant group which runs Gaza reportedly sent a delegation for the new round of talks.

Israel did not send a delegation because the government was waiting to learn which hostages are alive and how many Palestinian prisoners Hamas seeks in exchange for each, according to Israeli media.

"Hamas claims it wants a cease-fire. Well, there is a deal on the table. And as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal," Harris said.

Egypt and Qatar serve as intermediaries between Hamas and Israel, which do not talk to each other directly. Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by many countries, including Israel, Germany and the US.


Skip next section Israeli War Cabinet member Gantz to hold talks in Washington without Netanyahu's blessing
March 4, 2024

Israeli War Cabinet member Gantz to hold talks in Washington without Netanyahu's blessing

Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's War Cabinet, will meet with Vice President Kamala Harris and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday, according to his National Unity Party.

Gantz's trip to Washington D.C. will include a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, according to the itinerary released by his party. Gantz began his trip Sunday by sitting down with officials from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Gantz's trip to the American capital comes as friction between the US and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rises over ways to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and a postwar plan for the enclave.

But Gantz's trip, nearly five months into the Israel-Hamas war, also appears to be one without Netanyahu's authorization, the Associated Press reported citing an unnamed official, signaling further divisions within the Israeli government.

Netanyahu's government faces anger over the fact that more than 100 hostages remain held in Gaza. Divisions have appeared in the Israeli government over what it could take to release the hostages. 

An official from Netanyahu's far-right Likud party said Netanyahu had a "tough talk" with Gantz, a centrist political rival, and told him the country has "just one prime minister," according to the Associated Press agency.

rm/wd (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)