Israeli defence minister heads to US for 'critical' talks on Gaza and Lebanon

AFP , Sunday 23 Jun 2024

Israel's Defence Minister Yoav Gallant was headed to Washington on Sunday for "critical" talks on the Gaza war that has killed thousands of Palestinians and surging cross-border tensions with Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.

Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant said he would discuss developments in Gaza and Lebanon. AFP


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced hope for speedy progress on unfreezing US arms and ammunition deliveries from Israel's top ally which he said had dropped off sharply in recent months.

US President Joe Biden has been at odds with Israel's veteran right-wing leader over Gaza's surging civilian death toll, but US officials have said they were not aware of what Netanyahu was referring to on the arms issue.

The Israeli premier on Sunday told his cabinet that "about four months ago, there was a dramatic drop in the supply of armaments arriving from the US to Israel. We got all sorts of explanations, but... the basic situation didn't change."

However, he voiced hope the issue would now be cleared up: "In light of what I have heard in the last day, I hope and believe that this issue will be resolved in the near future."

Israeli occupation forces again bombed Gaza on Sunday, a day after tens of thousands staged a protest rally in Tel Aviv against the government and to demand the return of captives being held by Hamas.

Tensions have also flared on Israel's northern border with Lebanon whose Hezbollah resistance movement has traded daily cross-border fire with the army, heightening fears of all-out war.

Gallant said he would "discuss developments in Gaza and Lebanon", vowing that "we are prepared for any action that may be required in Gaza, Lebanon and in additional areas".

He stressed that "our ties with the United States are more important than ever. Our meetings with US officials are critical to this war."

'War of annihilation'

In Gaza, Israeli forces kept up relentless bombardment of Gaza, in a one-sided war that has devastated much of the coastal territory.

In a statement, the Israeli army said warplanes had struck dozens of targets throughout the Gaza Strip over the past 24 hours.

Meanwhile, Gaza's health ministry announced at least 47 deaths over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to at least 37,598 people since the war began on 7 October.

As Israel's war on Gaza has raged on for over eight months, Israeli protesters have taken to the streets week after week demanding greater efforts to bring home the remaining captives.

A rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening drew more than 150,000 people, according to the organisation Israel Democracy HQ - Hofshi B'Artzenu, which called it the biggest rally since the Gaza war began.

Many demonstrators voiced anger and frustration with Netanyahu and his far-right allies, accusing them of prolonging the war and putting the country's security and captives at risk.

Many held signs reading "Crime Minister" and "Stop the War" while some lay on the ground covered in red paint to protest what they labelled the death of Israel's democracy.

In an address to the crowd, Yuval Diskin, a former head of Israel's domestic security agency Shin Bet, condemned Netanyahu as Israel's "worst prime minister".

Lebanon tensions

With no end in sight, Israel's Gaza brutal war continues to claim the lives of thousands of Palestinians while an Israeli siege has brought more than half of Gaza's 2.4 million to the brink of famine, with UN and aid organizations warning of a "full-blown famine" in north Gaza.

At the same time, nearly 85 percent of Gaza's population (or 1.9 million people) have been displaced, according to the UN, some several times as the Israeli army has pushed most of the population to the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah.

In May, Israel sent troops into the border city sheltering nearly 1.5 million Palestinians, despite US pleas to avoid a Rafah offensive.

"This war must stop," said Umm Siraj al-Balawi, surviving in a makeshift shelter amid a field of rubble, with strung-up sheets protecting her young children from the blazing sun.

"People are getting displaced from house to house, tent to tent, school to school," she said. "This is a war of displacement. It's a war of annihilation."

Lebanon's Hezbollah meanwhile said it had targeted a military position in northern Israel "with an attack drone" in response to the killing of a commander of the Jamaa Islamiya group in a strike on eastern Lebanon.

Israel said no one was injured in the attack Sunday.

Hezbollah had hours earlier published a video excerpt purporting to show locations in Israel along with their coordinates, amid heightening fears of an all-out conflict.

Israel's military said last Tuesday that a plan for a Lebanon offensive had been "approved and validated".

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah responded with threats that no part of Israel would be spared in the event of a full-scale war.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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