What to know about the situation in the Middle East this week
LONDON (AP) — As Israel-Hamas cease-fire talks flounder, Israel is vowing to press ahead with its offensive in the southern Gaza Strip despite warnings from the U.S. to work harder to protect civilians. Violence spiked across the volatile Israel-Lebanon border. This is what happened in the Middle East this week.
ISRAEL TO KEEP UP OFFENSIVE
Israel’s defence minister said Friday that the country’s military was pushing ahead with its planned offensive into Rafah, one of the last population centers in the Gaza Strip that its ground forces have so far mainly stayed out of. He has not said when the offensive will begin but says Israel’s military will prepare a plan first to evacuate the estimated 1.4 million Palestinian civilians who are crammed into the city on the Egyptian border.
There have been growing expressions of concern around the world and repeated warnings by the United States that Israel must come up with a credible evacuation plan. In Rafah, the situation is increasingly desperate. People lack adequate food, water, electricity and medical care, and they are under regular Israeli bombardment. Israel says it targets Hamas fighters and holds the militants responsible for civilian casualties because they operate from civilian areas.
Over the past few days, Israel’s military has raided Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, the main hospital in the southern Gaza Strip, saying it had evidence that Israeli hostages had been held there. It found no hostages but said it arrested 100 militants, 20 of which it claimed had been involved in the attacks that started the war. A surgeon at the hospital said one patient had been killed in the raid.
Israel launched its war in response to a cross-border Hamas attack on Oct. 7 in which militants killed some 1,200 people in Israel and took 250 hostages. The offensive has killed nearly 29,000 Palestinians, according to health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave, caused widespread destruction, displaced some 80% of the population and sparked a humanitarian crisis.
EGYPT WORRIES ABOUT SPILLOVER, CEASE-FIRE TALKS STALL
The upcoming offensive on Rafah has also sparked warnings by neighboring Egypt. It worried that the fighting would push Palestinian civilians into its territory, and threatened to suspend its peace treaty with Israel. But it has also fortified a buffer zone on the border with another wall. The zone runs five kilometers (three miles) deep from the border, and is meant to stop any potential breaches, Egyptian officials say.
At the same time, cease-fire talks, moderated by the U.S., Qatar and Egypt, appear to be going nowhere. Hamas says it will not release its remaining Israeli captives, numbering about 100, until Israel withdraws from Gaza and releases a large number of Palestinian prisoners, including top militants. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called this “delusional” and said Israel would continue to fight Hamas until its destruction. He also said international recognition of a Palestinian state would amount to rewarding terrorism — just as France said it might go ahead and do just that.
FIGHTING WITH HEZBOLLAH HEATS UP
Across the tense Israeli-Lebanese border, fighting also heated up this week. Rocket fire from Lebanon killed an Israeli soldier on Wednesday. In response, an Israeli drone strike killed a Hezbollah commander and two other operatives in Lebanon. The next day, Israeli airstrikes killed 10 Lebanese civilians, prompting Hezbollah to fire a salvo of rockets into northern Israel and threaten to expand the conflict.
Hezbollah is a major political party and militia in Lebanon with a sizeable rocket and infantry force. It fought Israel to a standstill in a previous war in 2006. It receives backing from Iran, which relies on it to pressure Israel, its archenemy. They have been engaged in low-intensity fighting since the start of the Gaza war. Both sides say they don’t want another war but there are constant fears that things could slip out of control.
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