Netanyahu announces end of intense fighting phase


Lerato Khumalo

But the war against Hamas is to continue. At the same time, Israel’s troops are to be reinforced on the border with Lebanon. Baerbock is travelling for crisis talks. The news at a glance.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced an imminent end to the intensive fighting phase in the Gaza war, but does not want to end the war until the Islamist Hamas has been defeated. Netanyahu said this on the Israeli television station Channel 14.

When asked whether he would be prepared to reach an agreement with Hamas after the end of the intense fighting phase that would represent a commitment to ending the war, Netanyahu replied no. He was prepared to agree to a temporary ceasefire in return for the release of some hostages. After that, however, the fighting would have to continue until Hamas was destroyed. Netanyahu’s comments during the rare live appearance before a domestic audience caused a stir, according to Israeli media reports.

Immediately afterwards, the Prime Minister’s office felt compelled to clarify: “It is Hamas that rejects an agreement, not Israel,” it said in a brief statement yesterday evening. Netanyahu made it clear “that we will not leave Gaza until we have brought back all 120 of our hostages, living and dead,” it continued.

At the end of May, US President Joe Biden surprisingly presented a three-stage plan for a ceasefire. This plan envisages a temporary ceasefire during which some of the hostages will be released. In a second phase, the fighting would then stop permanently and the remaining hostages would be released. In a final phase, according to the draft, the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip would begin.

After the intensive phase of the Gaza war is over, it will be possible to move some of the troops north, said Netanyahu. There, in the border area with Lebanon, Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah have been firing at each other for more than eight months. Recently, the intensity of the fighting has increased significantly.

Israel wants to use diplomatic pressure to get the militia to withdraw behind the Litani River, 30 kilometers from the border – as stipulated in a UN resolution. If necessary, however, Israel is also prepared to use a larger military operation, warned Israeli Defense Minister Joav Galant.

Before leaving for the USA, Galant reiterated that his country was “prepared for any operation that might be required in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon and other areas”. There are fears that an open war between Israel and Lebanon could escalate into a regional conflict in which the USA, as Israel’s most important ally, would also be drawn in. In view of the growing concerns about an escalation, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is travelling to Tel Aviv today.

It is Baerbock’s eighth visit to Israel since the Hamas terror attack on the country on October 7. The bloody attack was the trigger for the war. According to a spokeswoman for the Foreign Office, the Green politician’s talks tomorrow in Israel and the Palestinian territories will focus on the war in the Gaza Strip and the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the sealed-off coastal area. Tomorrow evening, Baerbock also wants to hold talks in the Lebanese capital Beirut.

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič pointed to the devastating supply situation in Gaza in a joint statement. It has now become almost impossible to provide any significant humanitarian aid in the war zone.

The starving people resorted to desperate measures to get access to the few aid supplies that were reaching the country. “We once again appeal to all parties to the conflict to live up to their responsibilities under international law,” it said. UN Secretary-General Guterres had also previously complained that chaos and “total lawlessness” were preventing the distribution of humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, according to media reports, the Supreme Court in Israel has requested a report from the country’s state authorities on the conditions in the Sde Teiman prison camp, which was set up for militant Palestinians. Former inmates, human rights groups and Israeli whistleblowers, including former doctors, have repeatedly reported violence against the prisoners, including torture. Among other things, prisoners are said to have been beaten, sexually abused and injured.

The military set up the Sde Teiman camp near the southern Israeli city of Beersheba after the terrorist attack on October 7. The army is imprisoning terror suspects and militants there who were arrested during the Gaza war. According to Israel’s interpretation, they are “illegal combatants”.