Israel marks Memorial Day as fighting in Gaza continues

  • To date, 25,040 IDF soldiers have died in Israel’s wars.
  • Since October 7th, 716 IDF soldiers and other security personnel have been killed in action. This total includes 8 soldiers killed in the last week.
  • Since last Memorial Day, 834 civilians were murdered, bringing the total of Israeli civilians murdered in terror attacks to 5,100. Twelve Israeli civilians had been murdered since last Memorial Day prior to October 7th.
  • This morning at 1100 local time, a two-minute memorial siren was heard across the country. The official state ceremony at Mount Herzl was attended by Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Yitzhak Herzog, Knesset Speaker Ohana and the heads of the security forces.

Gaza Strip: Since the weekend, the IDF has been operating across the Gaza Strip in the south, centre and north. The IDF says it has struck 150 targets across the Strip in the last day.

  • On Sunday, the IDF expanded its precise operation against Hamas in Eastern Rafah. The IDF announced, “since the start of our precise operation against Hamas in Rafah we have eliminated dozens of terrorists, exposed underground terror tunnels and vast amounts of weapons. Prior to our operations we urge civilians to temporarily move towards humanitarian areas and move away from the crossfire that Hamas puts them in.”
  • Four months after the IDF gained control over Jabalya, the second-largest city in the northern Gaza Strip, the IDF has returned after Hamas reconstituted its military position close to the Israeli border.
  • As a clear sign of Hamas’s remaining capabilities, they have fired over 20 rockets in the last 24 hours aimed towards Sderot Ashkelon and Beer Sheva. Most were intercepted or landed in open areas, but one rocket directly struck a building in Ashkelon, slightly wounding three people and causing extensive damage to an apartment.
  • At least five more rockets were fired from Rafah at the humanitarian aid crossing at Kerem Shalom, all of which were either intercepted or landed in open areas.
  • The IDF has also been operating in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighbourhood. At the onset, the IDF called on the local population of more than 100,000 people to leave. This is because of the familiar Hamas approach of embedding themselves within the civilian population, where they had renewed their military control.

Humanitarian assistance: On Sunday, the IDF announced the opening of the ‘Western Erez’ Crossing in the northern Gaza strip, emphasising it was done in coordination with the US government.

  • The ID noted this crossing “is part of the effort to increase aid routes to the Gaza Strip, and to the northern Gaza Strip in particular… Dozens of trucks of flour were coordinated from the Port of Ashdod on behalf of the World Food Programme organisation after undergoing security checks.”
  • Ahead of the (so far) limited operation in Rafah, Israel facilitated the entry of tens of thousands of tents provided by the UAE and others for Palestinians leaving Rafah towards Khan Yunis.
  • On Friday, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced the transfer of 200,000 litres of fuel, “transferred to address the ongoing and essential requirements of the international community, including hospitals, humanitarian areas, logistical centres and the distribution of humanitarian aid.”
  • On Saturday, a new field hospital was set up in central Gaza. According to the IDF, “the establishment of the hospital was coordinated and enabled through the entry of medical workers and medical equipment, including medicines, beds, food, water, tents, first aid equipment, ventilators, and materials for the construction of the field hospital… The field hospital will be operated by 150 international medical aid workers, and its dozens of beds can be used for emergency and routine medical treatment.”
  • The IDF noted, “the hospital joins seven other field hospitals that have been established in the Gaza Strip since the start of the war. It is located in the area of Deir al-Balah, which serves to provide humanitarian aid to the Gazan residents temporarily evacuated from the eastern Rafah area. As part of the humanitarian measures to facilitate the temporary evacuation of civilians from the eastern Rafah area, some of the existing field hospitals were transferred to the expanded Humanitarian Area in Al-Mawasi in coordination with the international community, where there is an increased supply of tents, food, water, and medicine.”

Cameron rejects arms embargo: while reiterating the UK’s opposition to the operation in Rafah, Foreign Secretary Cameron yesterday told Sky News that a UK arms embargo would “strengthen Hamas”.

  • Comparing the UK’s minor role as a weapons supplier to Israel with that of the US, Cameron said: “The United States is a massive bulk state supplier of weapons to Israel… The UK provides less than 1 percent of Israel’s weapons and is not a state supplier. We have a licensing system and those licences can be closed if it’s judged there’s a serious risk of a serious international human rights violation.”
  • He reminded viewers that the last time there had been pressure on the UK Government to consider an embargo, “a few days later there was a massive Iranian attack on Israel, including 140 cruise missiles. So I don’t think it would have been a wise path.”
  • “If I announced that today,” he continued, “it might help me get through this television interview, but actually it would strengthen Hamas. It would weaken Israel.”

Context: The mood in Israel is particularly sombre today as Israel marks the traditional annual Memorial Day, whilst still in active combat across Gaza and in the north and with 132 hostages having remained in Hamas captivity for 219 days.

  • In the north, two IDF reservists were killed by a kamikaze drone strike at an army position near Metula last week, while a third was killed in a separate attack. The IDF responded with airstrikes on Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon,
  • In Gaza, a disturbing pattern has repeated itself: once the IDF leaves a combat zone, Hamas fighters have been able to return, regroup and reestablish control.
  • This is placing extra pressure on the political leadership to decide who will manage Gaza ‘the day after’.
  • Yossi Yehoshua, in Yediot Ahronot, spelt out the concern, writing “military officials have said that a decision has to be made about the regime that will take the reins in Gaza in the future. Security  officials have said that no one wants Hamas. As such, the options remaining are either the Palestinian Authority or moderate forces in the Gaza Strip that enjoy the support of Arab countries. The third option, one of an Israeli military administration, is untenable…”
  • Meanwhile, efforts are still underway to reach an agreement for the release of hostages and a ceasefire. Despite hopes that Hamas had ‘agreed’, significant gaps remain:
    • Hamas cannot guarantee how many of the 33 female soldiers, sick and elderly are still alive.
    • Hamas refusing Israel’s insistence to have a veto over certain heavyweight terrorists that will be released in exchange.
    • The sequencing of the deal: how may hostages will be released after how many days.
    • Hamas are also seeking a longer pause: 12 weeks as opposed to 6 in an effort to end the fighting completely – something Israel will only consider for the release of all the hostages.
  • Hamas continues its psychological warfare, releasing another hostage video, the third in a month.
  • In Rafah, Israel is thus far limiting its operations to pinpoint missions. Concern for the safety of any hostages being held in Rafah, along with the over one million civilians, is allied to a desire to reduce tensions with Egypt which have been inflamed over Cairo’s opposition to any operation in Rafah.

Looking ahead: One of Israel’s most immediate diplomatic priorities will be maintaining ties with Cairo and securing Egyptian cooperation for ongoing operations in Rafah and elsewhere in the Gaza Strip.

  • There will likely be diplomatic fallout from Cairo’s decision to support South Africa’s case against Israel at the ICJ (see Israeli Media Summary below).
  • Egypt’s opposition to an operation in Rafah, like that of other Arab states, has implications for the Arab world’s involvement in the ‘day after’ in Gaza and will require delicate handling