April 2nd – Day 178 of the war: News in Brief


1. An airstrike in Damascus yesterday killed a number of senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers, including its top officer in Syria, Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi. The strike, for which Iran has blamed Israel, destroyed a building adjacent to the Iranian Embassy. Zahedi is reported as having overseen operations targeting Israel from Syria and Lebanon. He is the most senior IRGC officer killed since Qassem Soleimani’s assassination in January 2020, and his death has prompted an angry Iranian response, with its Ambassador to Syria warning that its response to the strike would be “harsh”. While Israel generally refrains from commenting on operations it conducts in Syria, it is understood as having escalated its efforts to reduce Iranian military entrenchment, including the supply of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah and Iranian proxies. This latest strike follows a number of other senior IRGC figures assassinated in recent months. Meanwhile, Hezbollah continues to fire rockets towards northern Israel, and around 80,000 Israelis from the north remain internally displaced.

2. A reported seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen organisation (WCK) were killed last night in Gaza. The seven, including one UK citizen, died following an Israeli air strike in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip. The charity announced the suspension of its Gaza operations, while CEO Erin Gore paid tribute to “the love” the victims had for “feeding people, the determination they embodied to show that humanity rises above all,” and said that “the impact they made in countless lives will forever be remembered and cherished”. In a statement, the IDF said it was “conducting a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident.” It also stressed that it made “extensive efforts to enable the safe delivery of humanitarian aid, and has been working closely with WCK in their vital efforts to provide food and humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.” The charity, which made its name distributing aid in Haiti and in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, led the first maritime shipment of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip last month, including ingredients for 500,000 meals. Elsewhere, COGAT says that on Sunday 205 humanitarian aid trucks were inspected and transferred to the Strip, with 198 then distributed by UN aid agencies. COGAT says this brings the total number of aid trucks transferred since the outset of the war to 19,776. 232 packages containing thousands of meals were airdropped. 21 ambulances were also transferred, taking the total transferred since the start of the war to 105.

3. The IDF completed their two-week targeted operation against Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad inside the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Overall, over 500 suspects with terror affiliations were arrested, with 200 terrorists killed. According to the IDF, the fighting included “close-quarters encounters,” while they ”located numerous weapons and intelligence documents throughout the hospital, while preventing harm to civilians, patients, and medical teams.” On Sunday, the IDF revealed that inside the maternity ward, “soldiers discovered many weapons hidden inside pillows, hospital beds, ceilings, and the walls of the compound, including dozens of mortar shells, explosive devices, sniper rifles, Kalashnikov rifles, pistols, magazines, mortars and additional ammunition.” Relating to the subverted use of the hospital, Prime Minister Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday, “no hospital anywhere in the world looks like this; this was a terrorist lair.”  Meanwhile, the heads of the US and Israeli militaries have discussed the anticipated operation in Rafah. Israeli media reported on a US proposal whereby the Egyptian border will be sealed, and cameras and sensors will be installed. Rafah will be isolated and surrounded by the IDF. IDF troops will raid specific targets based on intelligence, with joint US-Israeli oversight.

4. Over the last few days, Israel experienced a spate of three terrorist attacks including a shooting in the Jordan Valley, and two stabbings in Gan Yavneh and Beersheva. While thought to be unrelated and not resulting in any fatalities, these attacks will undoubtedly cause concern and alarm against the backdrop of what has otherwise been a relatively peaceful Ramadan. The Beersheva stabbing was perpetrated by a resident of Rahat, and is the second such attack to emanate from the Bedouin city in recent weeks. The Gan Yavneh attack was perpetrated by a West Bank resident thought to be illegally working in Israel and left three wounded – two in very serious condition, one in moderate condition. The Jordan Valley shooting was perpetrated by a Palestinian Authority security officer who turned himself into Israeli authorities after spending two days on the run.

5. A drone launched from Iraq has struck the port of Eilat, causing minor damage to an Israeli Navy base with no reported casualties or fatalities. While identified as it entered Israeli airspace, it was not intercepted by local missile defence systems. The Islamic Resistance of Iraq (IRI), an umbrella group representing a number of Iranian-backed Shia militias, has claimed responsibility for this attack. While IRI has attempted to launch several drone attacks against Israel since November 2023, they have thus far achieved limited success. Most of these attacks have been launched from Syria rather than Iraq, and they have primarily targeted civilian settlements in the Galilee or Golan Heights. The IRI is just one of Iran’s proxies which has been weaponised against Israel since October 7th.

6. Mossad Director David Barnea led an Israeli delegation that returned to Cairo for renewed talks on a hostage deal. It is understood that the war cabinet has given the negotiators more flexibility including allowing residents of the northern Gaza Strip to return. Barnea was quoted in Maariv this morning, telling the Qatari and Egyptian mediators, “this is now the true test for Hamas and Sinwar: Do they want a six-week humanitarian ceasefire for the civilian population of the strip or are they interested in continuing with their foot-dragging, which has caused their people terrible suffering,” According to Palestinian media, Hamas is waiting to hear the outcome of the talks before they return to Cairo. Formally, Hamas continues to demand four conditions: an end to the war, an IDF withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, returning Gazans to the northern Gaza Strip, and increasing humanitarian aid supplies. Responding to criticism that he is not doing enough to reach a deal, Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “I have approved rescue operations involving risk to our brave soldiers, but the main part of our activity is combining military pressure with resolute negotiations.  Anyone who says I’m not doing everything to get the hostages back is mistaken and is misleading others. Anyone who knows the truth and repeats this lie is doing the hostages’ families an injustice.”

7. Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered outside the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on Sunday and Monday, in the first two days of a planned four-day protest demanding the resignation of the Netanyahu government, the release of all the hostages, and the end of the exclusion of the ultra-Orthodox from military service. Sunday’s rally was significantly larger, and organised by the Kaplan Force, Brothers in Arms, and other groups formed in response to last year’s judicial overhaul programme. On Sunday, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid spoke, saying of Netanyahu “How has he not disappeared from our lives after October 7? All he cares about is the office and title, and let the country burn.” Another notable presence at Sunday’s demonstration was Arnon Ben-David, chairman of the Histadrut. Yesterday, Yair Golan, the former Meretz MK and IDF Deputy Chief of Staff who is vying to unify and lead the Israeli political left, told protesters “we could have had the hostages home in a process of renewal, with another government, thrown the judicial reform into the garbage, had a defence budget that makes sense. But instead, we’re stuck with the Netanyahu-Gantz government.” Hostage family members also spoke. Albini Peri, whose grandfather Chaim Peri is still held hostage, said “We demand a deal now, but there won’t be one so long as this government finds it more important to kill Arabs than to save Jews,” he said. “A deal now is elections now.”