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ConflictsMiddle East

Israel-Hamas war: Ramadan deadline set for Rafah offensive

Published February 19, 2024last updated February 19, 2024

Israel will launch an offensive in Rafah in early March unless Hamas frees all hostages, said Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz.

Children are seen among makeshift tents in Rafah city, Gaza
More than a million Palestinians have sought refuge in Rafah and international aid agencies say they are suffering from shortages of food, medicine and other basic suppliesImage: Abed Zagout/Anadolu/picture alliance
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • 26 EU foreign ministers call for 'humanitarian pause' in Gaza
  • Israel sets Ramadan deadline for offensive on Gazan city Rafah
  • EU approves Red Sea naval mission 
  • Iran-backed Houthis say targeted vessel at risk of sinking

This live blog is now closed, for more coverage of the Israel-Hamas war, click here. 

Skip next section Majority of EU countries call for 'immediate humanitarian pause' in Gaza
February 19, 2024

Majority of EU countries call for 'immediate humanitarian pause' in Gaza

Twenty-six member countries of the European Union called for a pause in fighting in Gazato allow humanitarian relief, the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told reporters Wednesday following a foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels. 

Borrell added that 26 of 27 EU member states agreed to "require an immediate humanitarian pause that would lead to a sustainable ceasefire, to the unconditional release of hostages, and to the provision of humanitarian assistance". 

Borrell did not say which EU country did not agree to the statement.

Baerbock: Two-state solution only way to end Israel-Gaza war

Skip next section Gaza death toll passes 29,000, according to Palestinian health authorities
February 19, 2024

Gaza death toll passes 29,000, according to Palestinian health authorities

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said on Monday that 107 people had been killed over the past 24 hours.

The ministry said that the latest figures brought the total number of killed since the war between Israel and Hamas began to 29,092. According to the ministry, more than 69,000 people have been injured.

While the figures cannot be independently verified, the UN and multiple humanitarian organizations consider them to be largely reliable.

The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths.

Skip next section EU foreign ministers approve Red Sea naval mission
February 19, 2024

EU foreign ministers approve Red Sea naval mission

EU foreign ministers have given final approval to a naval mission to protect international shipping in the Red Sea.

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, welcomed Monday's decision.

"Europe will ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, working alongside our international partners. Beyond crisis response, it's a step towards a stronger European presence at sea to protect our European interests," she posted on X, formerly Twitter.

The EU-led mission, called Aspides, the ancient Greek word for shield, will involve sending three European warships and airborne early warning systems to the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and surrounding waters.

The measures are in response to increased attacks by Yemen's Houthis, who have been launching missile and drone strikes in the vital shipping corridor since the war between Israel and Hamas began.

Two ships were targeted in incidents on Monday. A US-owned cargo ship called for military assistance after reporting a missile attack in the Gulf of Aden, and a UK-registered cargo vessel was reportedly damaged by a missile as it traveled through the el-Mandeb Strait. 

Skip next section Palestinians accuse Israel of 'colonialism and apartheid' at World Court
February 19, 2024

Palestinians accuse Israel of 'colonialism and apartheid' at World Court

Israel has been enforcing a policy of "apartheid" in the occupied Palestinian territories, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki has told the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the judiciary branch of the United Nations, saying that his people were suffering from Israeli "colonialism."

"More than 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, including in Jerusalem, are subjected to colonization of their territory and racist violence that enables it," Al-Maliki said in his opening remarks in The Hague, Netherlands.

"The United Nations [has] enshrined in its charter the rights of all peoples to self-determination and pledged to rid the world of the gravest breaches of this right, namely colonialism and apartheid. Yet, for decades, the Palestinian people have been denied this right and have endured both colonialism and apartheid.

"Those who are enraged by those words should be enraged by the reality we are suffering. Allowing this to continue is unacceptable. It is a moral and legal obligation to bring it to a prompt end."

The ICJ is holding hearings all week on the legal implications of Israel's occupation since 1967, with an unprecedented 52 countries expected to give evidence, including the United States, Russia, and China. 

The UN General Assembly requested the ICJ to provide an advisory opinion on the legal implications in 2022, before the Hamas terror attacks on Israel on October 7 and the subsequent Israel offensive in Gaza. 

Hearings on Israel's Palestinian territory occupation begin

Skip next section Norway announces deal to avert Palestinian financial collapse
February 19, 2024

Norway announces deal to avert Palestinian financial collapse

Norway's government has said that it will act as a temporary mediator between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) as part of a scheme to prevent a financial collapse in the Palestinian territories.

Under a 1994 agreement, the PA receives taxes, known as "clearance revenues," that Israel collects on its behalf. The revenues account for around 65% of the PA's income, but Israel has been withholding some of them since the Hamas attack on October 7 to prevent any payments to the militant group.

The PA has also refused to accept any transfers unless Israel changes its decision, leading to a month-long impasse, until now.

"Together, we have agreed on a temporary solution in which Norway will serve as an intermediary for holding the portions of the clearance revenues tax that Israel has withheld since October 7," the Norwegian government said in a statement.

"The Palestinian Authority is then willing to accept the other funds. The Palestinian Authority has welcomed this arrangement and appreciates the effort to find a temporary solution in this extraordinary situation," the statement said.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store welcomed the agreement, saying, "With our assistance, the Palestinian Authority will be able to pay salaries, thus making it possible to continue to provide essential services to the Palestinian population, keep schools open, and ensure that health workers are paid.

"This is critical to promoting stability in the region and for the Palestinian Authority to have legitimacy among its people."

Skip next section Houthis say attacked vessel at risk of sinking
February 19, 2024

Houthis say attacked vessel at risk of sinking

Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels said on Monday that a cargo ship the group targeted in the Gulf of Aden is at risk of sinking.

The Belize-flagged, UK-registered cargo vessel came under attack in the Bab-al-Mandab Strait off the coast of Yemen, according to British maritime security firm Ambrey.

UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) reported that the ship had sustained damage following "an explosion in close proximity to the vessel."

"Military authorities report crew have abandoned the vessel," UKMTO said. "Vessel at anchor and all crew are safe."

A spokesman for the Houthis, Yahya Sarea, issued a statement saying that the ship was "now at risk of potentially sinking."

"The ship suffered catastrophic damages and came to a complete halt," Saree said. "During the operation, we made sure that the ship's crew exited safely."

The militant group, which the US redesignated as a global terrorist organization last month, has targeted vessels in the Red Sea over Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza.

The attacks have disrupted global shipping, compelling companies to opt for longer, costlier detours around southern Africa.

The US and UK have responded to the threats by targeting Houthi facilities in an attempt to secure maritime routes and deter further aggression.

Why Iran and Israel are enemies

Skip next section ICJ to hear arguments on Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories
February 19, 2024

ICJ to hear arguments on Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories

The United Nations' top court begins hearings on Monday on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories.

An unprecedented 52 countries are expected to give evidence during the week-long legal proceedings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki will be the first to speak, while countries including the United States, Russia, and China will also address the judges. 

In 2022, the UN General Assembly asked the ICJ for a non-binding "advisory opinion" on the "legal consequences arising from the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem."

Any ICJ opinion would be non-binding, but it comes amid increasing international pressure on Israel over the war in Gaza following the October 7 Hamas attacks.

The advisory opinion proceedings are separate from a genocide case that South Africa filed at the world court against Israel for its alleged violations of the 1948 Genocide Convention in Gaza.

Last month, the ICJ in that case ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza.

ICJ: Israel must act to prevent genocide in Gaza


Skip next section Israel sets March deadline for ground offensive in Rafah
February 19, 2024

Israel sets March deadline for ground offensive in Rafah

Israel has set a deadline for the start of its planned military operation in Rafah, despite international calls to avoid a ground offensive in the southern Gazan city.

"The world must know, and Hamas leaders must know — if by Ramadan our hostages are not home, the fighting will continue everywhere, including the Rafah area," opposition politician Benny Gantz, who has taken a post in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's war cabinet, told a conference of Jewish American leaders.

Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, is expected to begin on March 10.

More than 200 people were taken hostage on October 7 in attacks on Israel led by Hamas — designated a terrorist organization by the US, EU and Israel, among others. Around 130 are believed to still be in Gaza.

More than a million Palestinians have fled to Rafah since Israel launched an air and ground assault elsewhere in the territory. Many of those displaced are living in crowded shelters and tent camps in the city on the border with Egypt. 

Meanwhile, Netanyahu brushed off growing calls to halt the military offensive, vowing to "finish the job."

The Health Ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza said on Sunday that 127 people died in 24 hours as Israel's military pressed its offensive in the territory. The ministry does not distinguish between combatants and civilians. 

Israeli airstrikes kill dozens across Gaza

Skip next section Israel opposes 'unilateral' imposition of Palestinian state
February 19, 2024

Israel opposes 'unilateral' imposition of Palestinian state

Israel's Cabinet said it "will continue to oppose unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state."

"Such recognition in the wake of the October 7 massacre would be a massive and unprecedented reward to terrorism and would prevent any future peace settlement," it said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it comes after "recent talk in the international community about an attempt to unilaterally impose on Israel a Palestinian state."

TheUS and several Arab partners were reportedly preparing a detailed plan for a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians that includes a "firm timeline" for a Palestinian state.

The UK also seems to be thinking about it even though, in the past, the country has been just as opposed to the move as the US.

"What we need to do is give the Palestinian people a horizon towards a better future, the future of having a state of their own," British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said earlier this month.

Senior politicians in Spain, Norway and Ireland have also recently spoken about potentially recognizing a Palestinian state.

On Sunday, the Israel Cabinet said it "categorically rejects international edicts on a permanent arrangement with the Palestinians" and opposes any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.