March 21st – Day 167 of the war: News in Brief


1. This morning, Yediot Ahronot front page leads with a story suggesting that the UK has stunned Israel by saying that unless diplomats or Red Cross representatives are allowed to visit terrorists from Hamas’s elite Nukhba unit detained in Israel, the UK might cease arms sales to Israel. UK Foreign Secretary Cameron has reportedly warned Jerusalem that unless conditions change, it can expect to see Europe-wide shifts in arms sales policy. A team of UK lawyers visited Israel two weeks ago, with London concerned that Red Cross officials have not been allowed to visit the detainees, in line with the demands of international law. Israel opposes such visits on the grounds that according to international law it can object to them on the basis of security exceptions. It should be noted, too, that Red Cross access to the hostages in Gaza has been repeatedly denied by Hamas. The UK threat bears all the hallmarks of a coordinated effort by the US and Israel’s other western allies to pressure Jerusalem to change its policies in the prosecution of the war. “A plague of sanctions against Israel is liable to break out, one that could spread across the world,” a senior government official told Yediot Ahronot. Israeli Foreign Minister Katz sent a letter to Cameron, his counterpart, via Israel’s ambassador in London, Tzipi Hotovely saying, as summarised by Yediot Ahronot, that “now is the time to strengthen the State of Israel, not to weaken it, especially at a time that negotiations for a hostage release deal with the Hamas terror organisation are underway. Katz said there is ‘no room’ for steps of this kind (meaning weapons bans) at this critical moment in the talks on the hostage issue, and added that any decision that hurts Israel sends a message to Hamas that they can draw out negotiations and block implementation of a deal.”

2. Mixed reports are emerging from Doha concerning progress being made in hostage/ceasefire negotiations. US Secretary of State Blinken said that progress has been made, and that the distance between the two sides on a mutually agreeable deal is narrowing. An agreement is “very much possible,” Blinken said in an interview to Saudi media during a visit to the kingdom. “We worked very hard with Qatar, Egypt and Israel to put a strong proposal on the table,” Blinken said. “Hamas wouldn’t accept it. They came back with other demands. The negotiators are working on that right now, but I believe it’s very much doable, and it’s very much necessary. If Hamas cares at all about the people it purports to represent, then it would reach an agreement because that would have the immediate effect of a ceasefire, alleviating the tremendous suffering of people, bringing more humanitarian assistance in and then giving us the possibility of having something more lasting.” Israeli officials have been more circumspect, one telling The Washington Post, “this is not a negotiation that will end in days — it will end, maybe, in weeks.” Hamas’s Beirut-based official Osama Hamdan, meanwhile, claimed Israel’s response to Hamas’s latest terms had been “generally negative”.3. The military operation inside the Shifa Hospital compound in Gaza City is continuing. According to the IDF they have arrested 350 people, including dozens of high-ranking terrorists and key Hamas operatives. One of those arrested was Mahmoud Qawasmeh, a high-ranking Hamas official who was an instigator of West Bank terror. Infamously he was one of the people who planned the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, in summer 2014. The IDF revealed they found weapons throughout the hospital, including: Kalashnikov rifles, machine guns, magazines, mortars, grenades, RPGs, and combat gear, and that they have killed over 140 terrorists. The troops also found £2.37 million worth of US dollars and Jordanian dinars, funds that were earmarked for terrorist purposes. Perhaps the most significant discovery is high-quality intelligence material that surpassed expectations. This includes computers and personal files which, for example, included the salary payments made to the full Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) payroll, revealing the whole organisation’s personnel to the Shin Bet. At the same time the IDF has ensured the hospital staff, patients and civilians continue to receive food, water and humanitarian aid.

4. In a joint Shin Bet and IDF operation, Israel has killed two senior PIJ operatives in a strike on their vehicle in the area of Jenin. The targets were Ahmed Barakat, who shot and murdered Israeli civilian Meir Tamari in Hermesh in May 2023, and Muhammad Shuakhin, an Islamic Jihad commander of terrorist infrastructure in the Jenin area. Two other operatives were also killed. A joint IDF-Shin Bet statement said “the two operatives who were struck were involved in advancing significant terrorist activity and attacks on Israeli civilians. They were behind the recent attempt by a terrorist to enter into the heart of Israel in order to carry out a planned attack, which was thwarted by Israeli security forces on March 11, 2024. In addition, the terrorists directed an explosives attack against IDF soldiers on March 8, 2024, during which seven IDF soldiers were injured in the area of the Homesh Junction.” Elsewhere in the West Bank, two other Palestinians have been killed in clashes with an IDF brigade currently raiding the Nur Shams refugee camp in the Tulkarm area, while a Palestinian man was shot and wounded this morning by IDF troops in the southern West Bank. A search of his bag reportedly turned up a knife. Meanwhile, in Jenin, a young Palestinian man named Carim Jabarin was executed last night by PIJ for alleged “collaboration” with Israel. Jabarin was injured in clashes between PIJ and Palestinian Authority Security Forces, before being seized by PIJ operatives. Palestinian reports suggested one of his executioners was his own brother.5. IDF operations also continue in other areas of the Gaza Strip. IDF troops targeted another site in Gaza City where Hamas operatives had gathered ahead of a planned raid on humanitarian aid trucks. The IDF learned about their plans and during the attack killed 23 terrorists. The IDF also revealed that earlier in the week IDF fighter jets, “eliminated senior Hamas operatives in Rafah who assisted its military wing in establishing continued control, as well as operations in the field…. The senior operatives were the representatives of Hamas’ leadership in Rafah. As part of their roles, they managed the terror organisation’s activities in humanitarian zones and were responsible for coordination with Hamas operatives in the field.” Also in Khan Yunis, the IDF engaged with Hamas operatives and “destroyed dozens of [sites of] terrorist infrastructure.”

6. In the north, once again rocket attacks emanating from Lebanon continued throughout yesterday, including in the areas of Har Dov, Yir’on, Misgav Am, and Margaliot all close to border. As usual, in response, the IDF struck the sources of the fire. The Israeli Air Force also struck a Hezbollah military compound in the area of Houla, and observation posts in the areas of Kfarkela and Yaroun. Lebanese media with Hezbollah affiliation are reporting that an Israeli spy ring has been uncovered in the country. According to the report, two people were arrested, allegedly working for Israel, to whom they provided details about Beirut and the Dahiya neighbourhood.