Divisions emerging in Israel over Gaza war

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After nearly 15 weeks of war, sharp divisions within Israel over the path forward in the Gaza Strip are increasingly coming into the open.

A member of Israel’s war Cabinet — a general who lost a son in the war — urged in a television interview broadcast late Thursday that the country pursues an extended cease-fire with Hamas to free the remaining hostages, a rebuke of the “total victory” being pursued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.اضافة اعلان

And in a sign of the growing exasperation among parts of the Israeli public over the government’s failure to free the hostages, relatives, and supporters of the captives partially blocked traffic on a major highway in Tel Aviv before dawn Friday.

Israel’s emergency governing coalition is under intense and competing pressures as the war drags on. Right-wing politicians are urging the military to act more aggressively in Gaza, even while Israel is contending with outrage across the globe over the carnage and decimation of so much of the territory. At the same time, the families of hostages are urging concessions to secure their return.

“UNICEF has described the Gaza Strip as the most dangerous place in the world to be a child,” said the official, Ted Chaiban, the agency’s deputy executive director. “We have said this is a war on children. But these truths do not seem to be getting through.”
Divisions between Israel and its closest ally, the United States, are also increasingly on display. Netanyahu on Thursday appeared to rule out a long-stated goal of US foreign policy: a postwar peace process that would lead to the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.

“Israel must have security control over all the territory west of the Jordan,” Netanyahu said at a news conference Thursday, referring to an area including occupied territory that Palestinians hope will one day become their independent state. “This truth I tell to our American friends, and I put the brakes on the attempt to coerce us to a reality that would endanger the state of Israel,” he added.

President Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu on Friday in their first conversation in nearly a month, as the two leaders increasingly diverge over the conduct of the war and the future of Gaza once the fighting ends.

The White House confirmed the call in a brief statement, saying only that the two leaders spoke “to discuss the latest developments in Israel and Gaza.” And in Yemen, the U.S. military hit three Houthi missiles and launchers, John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told reporters Friday, a pattern of strikes that the White House says will continue until the militant group halts its attacks on Red Sea shipping.

The Israeli official who criticized the prosecution of the war, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, a retired military chief of staff, has laid bare some of the persistent tensions within the wartime government.

Eisenkot said Israel’s leaders must define a vision for how to wind down the war in Gaza, and for its desired outcome. Only a deal with Hamas would secure the release of the hostages, he said, adding that Israel had so far failed in its stated aim of destroying Hamas. More than 240 people were taken captive on Oct. 7, and about 130 people remain captives in Gaza.

“We didn’t topple Hamas,” Eisenkot told Uvda, an Israeli news program, in a prerecorded interview. “The situation in Gaza is such that the war aims have yet to be achieved.”

Eisenkot’s views carry weight in Israel in part because of the personal price he has paid in the war: His 25-year-old son, Master Sgt. Gal Meir Eisenkot was killed while fighting in Gaza last month, as was a nephew.

Throughout the hourlong broadcast, he appeared to come down on the side of making a deal to liberate the hostages, even if Israel had to accept an extended truce with Hamas. He lamented that a weeklong cease-fire in November, during which groups of hostages were released daily in exchange for imprisoned Palestinians, had lapsed because he said reaching a similar arrangement a second time would be difficult.

Since the beginning of the conflict, at least 25 captives have been killed, according to Israeli officials, including at least one in a botched rescue attempt. In December, soldiers misidentified three hostages as combatants and fatally shot them.

Although there is broad-based support among Israelis for the Gaza campaign, many have become increasingly exasperated by the lack of progress by Netanyahu’s government in bringing the captives home.

At a news conference Thursday, some relatives of captives accused Israel’s war Cabinet of dragging its feet and called on the government to hammer out an international deal for the hostages. “Stop lying to us,” said Shir Siegel, whose 64-year-old father, Keith Siegel, is among the captives. “You are not doing everything you can.”

Underlining the divisions in the war Cabinet, Eisenkot said Netanyahu carried “sharp and clear” responsibility for the country’s failure to protect its citizens on Oct. 7. He urged a new election “within months.”

Although elections could threaten wartime unity, “the Israeli public’s lack of faith in its government is no less dire,” he said.

As Israel’s internal debate has grown louder, a range of world leaders has sounded rising alarm about the suffering of civilians in Gaza and the death toll there, which now exceeds 24,000, according to Gaza health officials.

A top official of UNICEF said in a statement Thursday that the conditions there were “some of the most horrific” he had ever seen, describing badly injured children enduring surgeries in dangerous circumstances.

“UNICEF has described the Gaza Strip as the most dangerous place in the world to be a child,” said the official, Ted Chaiban, the agency’s deputy executive director. “We have said this is a war on children. But these truths do not seem to be getting through.”

The U.N. has described dire conditions in the enclave, with water scarce, sanitation poor, and many children malnourished and sick. Only 15 out of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are even partly functional, according to the World Health Organization, which has said that Nasser Hospital alone treated 700 patients Monday, more than double its typical caseload.

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