Israel closes Gaza crossing facility after Hamas rocket attack from Rafah

(Bloomberg) – Israel closed the Kerem Shalom humanitarian border to Gaza on Sunday after a barrage of rockets by Hamas from the southern city of Rafah, an incident that could jeopardize delicate hostage-taking and ceasefire negotiations. It became.

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Israel and Hamas have been negotiating through mediators for weeks on a possible ceasefire that would include the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. At the same time, Israel is threatening to launch an operation in Rafah, where a Hamas battalion remains intact and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians have taken refuge.

The status of talks held in Cairo this weekend was unclear, with Hamas officials saying negotiators had returned to Qatar to consult with the group’s political leadership. According to Reuters, CIA Director William Burns was also leaving Cairo for talks in Qatar.

The Israeli military said about 10 projectiles were fired at Kerem Shalom, the humanitarian aid corridor visited by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week. Hamas’s military claimed responsibility for the attack, and Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a social media post that seven people were injured.

The Israel Defense Forces did not immediately confirm the number of casualties, but said the firing took place “near the Rafah crossing, approximately 350 meters (0.2 miles) from a civilian evacuation center.”

The attack prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say that Israel was willing to temporarily suspend the war in Gaza to obtain the release of hostages held there, but that Hamas wanted to end the war completely. This happened hours after he said he would not agree to the demands. Israel’s defense minister has warned that Israeli forces continue to prepare for a possible attack on Rafah in southern Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet on Sunday also approved a decision to suspend NDMT broadcasts from Israel under a recently passed law, drawing immediate condemnation from the Qatar-based network and the Foreign Press Association.

Read more: Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cabinet votes to shut down NDMT’s Israeli operation

Prime Minister Netanyahu doubled down on his position Sunday.

“We are not prepared to accept a situation in which Hamas battalions emerge from their bunkers, once again take control of Gaza, rebuild military infrastructure, and begin threatening Israeli citizens in surrounding settlements and southern cities.” in all regions,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday. He added that it is Hamas, not Israel, that is blocking the deal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office that giving in to Hamas’ demands would be a “terrible defeat” for Israel, a great victory for Hamas and Iran, and a “great victory for Israel’s friends and enemies alike.” “It would project a terrible weakness,” he said. .

Netanyahu, apparently referring to the possibility of normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia, said this weakness would preclude further peace agreements.

Read more: US-Saudi defense deal not possible without Israel deal, says FT

“This weakness will only bring the next war closer and further away from the next peace agreement,” Netanyahu said. “Alliances are not made with the weak and defeated, but with the strong and the victorious.”

Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the group, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, brought “seriousness and positivity” to the talks.

He said Netanyahu wants to “constantly fabricate justifications for the continuation of aggression, widening the circle of conflict, and sabotage through various mediators and political parties.”

He said Hamas held a series of contacts with mediators and resistance groups and held intensive meetings and consultations before sending a delegation to Cairo.

Haniya added that Hamas remains keen on reaching a comprehensive agreement that guarantees the withdrawal of Israeli forces and achieves a serious prisoner and hostage exchange agreement.

In response, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant said there were signs that Hamas did not want a deal that would open the door to “intense” military operations in Rafah.

“IDF forces are ready for strong operations throughout Gaza, especially in the Rafah area,” he said in a post on X.

Earlier Sunday, airstrikes that Lebanon blamed on Israel killed four civilians and wounded two in a village in southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah fired rockets back across the border.

Lebanese state news agency reported on Sunday that Israeli warplanes targeted Maes al-Jabal, causing “massive destruction.” Israel has not yet commented.

Hezbollah fired “dozens” of rockets at Kiryat Shmona in response to the Israeli attack, the militant group Al-Manar TV reported.

Israeli forces have engaged in near-daily cross-border firefights with Lebanon-based Hezbollah since they began operations against Hamas in October. Tensions appear to have escalated with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah since Israel and Tehran launched direct attacks last month.

Tens of thousands of Israelis and Lebanese have fled their homes near the border as cross-border fighting continues. The situation erupted around the time Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and sparking the Gaza war that destroyed much of the enclave and killed more than 34,000 Palestinians. . More than 100 Israelis captured by Hamas are still being held in Gaza, but it is unclear how many are alive.

Hezbollah is believed to have more than 100,000 fighters, many of whom are located near the border with Israel. The group has a much larger and more sophisticated arsenal of missiles and other weapons than Hamas. Both extremist groups are considered terrorist organizations by the United States.

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