Israel’s rolling invasion of Gaza

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Saturday that Israel had begun the “second phase” of its war against Hamas, “to destroy the military and governmental capabilities of Hamas and bring the hostages home.”

It moved tanks and infantry into Gaza on Friday night, with air-dropped leaflets to residents, plus what the UN said was the “most intense Israeli air strikes and artillery shelling” so far, cutting communications for 36 hours.

Humanitarian situation. In Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry says the death toll now exceeds 8,000, while the UN says “thousands of desperate people” have broken into its Gaza aid depots as civil order breaks down. Three dozen aid trucks entered Gaza yesterday, the largest convoy to date.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross says it’s “unacceptable that civilians have no safe place to go in Gaza”, while Israel says it’s planning to “dramatically increase” the aid allowed into Gaza, and claims Hamas has sizeable stockpiles which it refuses to release to civilians.

Hostages. Around half of Hamas’s hostages hold foreign passports. Hamas, which sent a delegation to Moscow last week and called Russia its “closest friend”, has promised to release the eight Russian hostages it’s holding.

For the remainder, Hamas says the price for their freedom is releasing all Hamas and other Palestinian detainees in Israel (believed to number in the thousands). Israel has dismissed this as “psychological terror”, though hostage families, the Haaretz newspaper, and others back such a swap.

International developments. The UN General Assembly (UNGA) passed a non-binding resolution calling for “an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce” on Friday, with 121 votes in favour. The US and some of the 57 others who opposed or abstained noted the text failed to mention Hamas or its hostages. An amendment that sought to insert both references failed to pass (a result that some delegates applauded).

And the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor appeared at Egypt’s Rafah crossing into Gaza yesterday, calling on Israel to respect international law but stopping short of accusing it of war crimes.

Intrigue’s take: Hamas is drawing Israel into two battles where it feels it can blunt any Israeli advantages.

The first is in Gaza, where Hamas seeks to erode Israel’s overwhelming military advantage via the use of tunnels, ambushes, civilians and hostages.

The second is in the international domain, where Friday’s UNGA vote – and global responses to Gaza’s rising death toll reports – suggest that whatever support Israel has is under real and growing pressure.

Israel’s strategy of staged escalation is an attempt to respond on both fronts, but on at least one (international support), its time is already limited.

Also worth noting:

  • Israel’s domestic intel chief has reportedly warned that the West Bank could also now erupt “due to a rise in violence by settlers”.
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