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Middle East updates: Israel's ultra-Orthodox can be drafted

Published June 25, 2024last updated June 26, 2024

Israel's Supreme Court has ruled that ultra-Orthodox men can no longer be exempt from military service. Meanwhile, Germany's foreign minister is holding talks in Ramallah, Jerusalem and Beirut. DW has more.

Israeli border police officers push back Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men during a protest against army recruitment, in Jerusalem.
Ultra-Orthodox men have long received exemptions from military service, which is compulsory for most Jewish men, generating widespread resentmentImage: Ohad Zwigenberg/AP Photo/picture alliance
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • Israel's Supreme Court says compulsory military service system should apply to ultra-Orthodox men
  • Four-month media investigation looks into whether Palestinian journalists are being targeted
  • German foreign minister holding talks in Ramallah, Jerusalem and Beirut

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Below is a roundup of developments from the Israel-Hamas war and the wider Middle East region on Tuesday, June 25:

Skip next section US pressing Israel to avoid a major war against Lebanon's Hezbollah
June 26, 2024

US pressing Israel to avoid a major war against Lebanon's Hezbollah

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Tuesday said Washington is pressing Israel to avoid a major war against Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Eight months of violent border exchanges between Israel and the Iran-backed Islamist militia have forced tens of thousands to flee their homes and resulted in the deaths of over 500 people.

The exchanges have sparked fears that a new front in Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza could spiral into a wider regional conflict.

"Hezbollah's provocations threaten to drag the Israeli and Lebanese people into a war that they do not want. Such a war would be a catastrophe for Lebanon and it would be devastating for innocent Israeli and Lebanese civilians," Austin said as he met with visiting Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

"Diplomacy is by far the best way to prevent more escalation. So we're urgently seeking a diplomatic agreement that restores lasting calm to Israel's northern border and enables civilians to return safely to their homes on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border," said Austin.

Gallant said that he and Lloyd would discuss defense ties between the US and Israel as well as covering areas where the two countries disagree.

Regarding the situation in at the Lebanese border, Gallant said the two would discuss military readiness. "We are working closely together to achieve an agreement, but we must also discuss readiness on every possible scenario." 

Expert: Israel-Hezbollah war 'would be a disaster'

Skip next section WATCH: Demolitions of Palestinian homes spike in east Jerusalem
June 25, 2024

WATCH: Demolitions of Palestinian homes spike in east Jerusalem

Israeli authorities have stepped up the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem following the October 7 attacks by Hamas, leading to a rise in tensions. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians live in the area. Watch DW's Aya Ibrahim report here: 

Palestinian home demolitions spike in east Jerusalem

Skip next section DW's Michaela Küfner: 'Gloves are off' on Baerbock's latest Israel trip
June 25, 2024

DW's Michaela Küfner: 'Gloves are off' on Baerbock's latest Israel trip

DW's Chief Political Editor Michaela Küfner is accompanying German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on her latest trip to Israel and the wider region. The foreign minister, according to our reporter, is using a noticeably tougher tone towards Israel, despite the deep reservations German politicians have given the legacy of the Holocaust in the 20th century. 

"Clearly, the gloves are off for Annalena Baerbock in her criticism of Israel. She calls on Israel's government to remember the democratic and humanitarian values it stands for. [Baerbock] is unusually specific in her criticism, calling out the allegations of torture but also warning Israel that the anger created by the high number of civilian deaths in Gaza was something that was working against Israel's longer-term security. For that, she said there must be a two-state solution — something which she never tires of mentioning. 

Here in Israel, in the West Bank and Lebanon, the German foreign minister has been speaking to all parties, trying to prevent a further escalation of the fighting here in the region. [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] intends to send troops to the northern border with Lebanon and with Hezbollah. The big fear now is that could mean a new military campaign, a new war that could become a wider conflict."

Skip next section 'Catastrophic levels' of food insecurity in Gaza — UN-backed assessment
June 25, 2024

'Catastrophic levels' of food insecurity in Gaza — UN-backed assessment

Nearly half a million people — more than one-fifth of Gaza's population — are facing the most severe form of food insecurity, according to a UN-backed assessment released on Tuesday.

An update from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) partnership found that 495,000 people face "catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity."

The IPC had previously warned in March that famine in north Gaza was imminent.

"The humanitarian space in the Gaza Strip continues to shrink and the ability to safely deliver assistance to populations is dwindling. The recent trajectory is negative and highly unstable," the report said.

The IPC said that increased deliveries of food to northern Gaza in March and April appeared to have reduced the severity of hunger in the area, where the UN-backed body had previously projected that famine was likely.

However, Israel's Rafah offensive resulted in the closure of the crossing on Gaza's border with Egypt, which had been a primary supply route for the delivery of food and other aid, as well as an evacuation point for critically ill or injured civilians.

Israel's military is seeking out the remaining Hamas battalions, leading to a renewed deterioration in recent weeks.

Skip next section Germany providing further €19 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza
June 25, 2024

Germany providing further €19 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Tuesday announced that a further €19 million ($20.3 million) in humanitarian aid would be provided for the people of Gaza.

This brings the amount of humanitarian aid for Palestinian territories to €312 million since last year, with the bulk of contributions going to the people of Gaza.

The aid will focus on the most urgently needed medical and food aid including food baskets, evacuation of injured people, medical teams, psychological support and hygiene.

It will be delivered with UN organizations WHO, WFP and UNRWA, as well as NGOs such as the German Red Cross, the Norwegian Refugee Council and other organizations.

Baerbock was in Jerusalem for talks with Israeli counterpart Israel Katz, as part of efforts to prevent the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas from spiraling into a regional conflict.

Skip next section Israel's Supreme Court rules ultra-Orthodox can be conscripted
June 25, 2024

Israel's Supreme Court rules ultra-Orthodox can be conscripted

The Supreme Court in Israel has ruled unanimously that the military must begin drafting ultra-Orthodox Jewish men for military service.

The court ruled that with there being no law distinguishing between Jewish seminary students and other draftees, Israel's compulsory military service system should apply to the ultra-Orthodox as it would any other citizens.

"The executive branch has no authority to order not to enforce the Security Service Law for yeshiva students in the absence of an appropriate legislative framework," the ruling said of Jewish seminary students, adding that without legislation granting them exemptions, "the state must act to enforce the law." 

Ultra-Orthodox men have been exempt from being drafted into military service, which is compulsory for most Israeli men and women.

The court found that the state was carrying out "invalid selective enforcement, which represents a serious violation of the rule of law, and the principle according to which all individuals are equal before the law."

The move could test Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, with two ultra-Orthodox parties who oppose increasing enlistment for their constituents.

Cabinet minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, who heads one of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition, called the ruling "very unfortunate and disappointing" in a post on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jews resist potential military draft

Skip next section US urges Israel to avoid Lebanon escalation
June 25, 2024

US urges Israel to avoid Lebanon escalation

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday stressed the importance of avoiding an escalation in Lebanon during talks with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during the latter's visit to the US.

In a statement released by Blinken's office, the US chief diplomat "underscored the importance of avoiding further escalation of the conflict and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows both Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes."

Last week, Israel's military said plans for an attack in southern Lebanon had been approved amid constant hostile exchanges with the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah pledged support for Hamas against Israel after the October 7 terror attacks by Hamas, although the two groups do not always see eye to eye.

The Lebanon-based group is classified as a terror organization by Israel, the US and several Arab states.

Blinken and Gallant also discussed the efforts to reach a cease-fire in Gaza "that secures the release of all hostages and alleviates the suffering of the Palestinian people," Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Blinken stressed the importance of taking additional measures to "protect humanitarian workers in Gaza and deliver assistance throughout Gaza in full coordination with the United Nations."

Expert: Israel-Hezbollah war 'would be a disaster'

Skip next section Over 100 journalists killed so far in Gaza, media investigation finds
June 25, 2024

Over 100 journalists killed so far in Gaza, media investigation finds

An investigation conducted by dozens of journalists and multiple newsrooms has been looking into whether media workers covering the conflict in Gaza have been targeted during the course of their duties.

The four-month probe was led by investigative outlet Forbidden Stories and involved AFP, The Guardian and the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism group (ARIJ) , among others.

Forbidden Stories founder Laurent Richard said a decision was made in February to launch "the Gaza Project," a collaboration involving 50 journalists and 13 international newsrooms, to investigate the deaths of journalists in Palestinian territories.

Over 100 journalists have been killed since the start of the war last October, the investigation concluded. The probe found that four journalists were allegedly killed or wounded by a drone while wearing press body armor.

Fourteen in total were killed, wounded or allegedly targeted while wearing their protective gear describing them as a member of the "press."

At least 40 journalists and media workers were killed while at home in Gaza, it added.

"The surviving Gazan journalists have long known that their 'press' vests do not protect them," Richard wrote in an editorial accompanying the Gaza Project's publication.

"Worse, the protective gear might further expose them. Local reporters know, too, that they are on their own, with the Israeli authorities banning foreign journalists from entering the Gaza Strip," Richard said.

The Guardian cited a senior Israeli official as saying: "There is no policy of targeting media personnel." However, the publication's investigation suggests that "some within the IDF appear to have viewed journalists working in Gaza for outlets controlled by or affiliated with Hamas to be legitimate military targets."

International journalists and agencies are unable to report on the ground and have been blocked by Israel and Egypt from covering the conflict in Gaza. This has meant that Palestinian journalists have been left to cover the war.

"The narrative that the IDF is intentionally targeting journalists is utterly unfounded and fundamentally false," The Guardian quoted a spokesperson for the IDF as saying.

"Civilians who are harmed, including journalists harmed during the conflict, are a terrible tragedy," the spokesperson said. "This tragedy is caused by Hamas intentionally embedding itself within the civilian population."

The ongoing conflict started when Hamas militants violently attacked southern Israel on October 7 last year, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 hostage. Israel subsequently launched a military operation in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas rules, with the stated aim of eradicating the militant group.

Over 37,000 Palestinians have thus far been killed in Gaza, as per the authorities of the Hamas-run enclave. 

Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the US, Germany, and others.

Skip next section Germany's Baerbock scheduled for talks in Ramallah, Jerusalem and Beirut
June 25, 2024

Germany's Baerbock scheduled for talks in Ramallah, Jerusalem and Beirut

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is meeting with Mohammad Mustafa, the new Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister, on Tuesday.

Talks are being held in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank and will likely focus on the role the PA could play in the postwar situation.

Baerbock is also scheduled for talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz in Jerusalem, with a focus on what the German Foreign Ministry has described as "the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza" and freeing the remaining hostages.

The Foreign Ministry said the cease-fire plan presented by US President Joe Biden "points to a lasting cease-fire and that Germany is urgently calling on Hamas to accept this plan."

Baerbock will again be meeting with relatives of those held hostage.

Later on Tuesday, Baerbock will be in Beirut where she will meet Prime Minister Najib Mikati, among others. The Foreign Ministry said that "talks will focus on the tense and dangerous situation along the border between Israel and Lebanon."

kb/rmt (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)