The Gaza Strip returned to Israeli aerial bombardments and Hamas rocket fire on Friday morning. The two protagonists face each other again, after a week of truce. This conflagration was caused by a conflict over the list of ten female hostages that Hamas was supposed to release on Friday to obtain an additional day of break.
Benyamin Netanyahu accused “Hamas-Daesh” of not having respected its commitments while the Palestinian Islamists released in stages, 105 hostages including 81 Israelis in exchange for 210 Palestinians detained by Israel. In these conditions “the resumption of fighting was necessary”, affirmed the Israeli Prime Minister. Hamas still holds 137 hostages, including around twenty women, Israeli officials say.
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On the ground, the Israeli air force carried out some 200 air and ground attacks, returning to the pace adopted since the start of the conflict on October 7, following the bloody Hamas incursion into southern Israel which caused 1200 deaths. Hamas, for its part, fired dozens of rockets and mortar shells towards Israeli territory, proving that despite all the blows dealt to its military branch, it was not put out of action. For this new round, Israeli military officials say they intend to strike much harder in the south of the Gaza Strip, which has so far been relatively spared while the north suffered the brunt of the attacks, notably the city from Gaza.
The offensive mainly targets the town of Khan Younes, considered the nerve center of the Hamas leadership, in particular the place where Yahya Sinwar, the leader of the Islamist organization, is believed to be hiding in a network of tunnels. But by attacking in this overpopulated region after the arrival of 1 million Palestinians who fled the fighting in the North, the Israeli army takes the risk of multiplying “collateral damage” among Palestinian civilians. To try to avoid such a scenario, the IDF made public on social networks a video in Arabic and a map of the Gaza Strip divided into hundreds of small areas in order to alert Palestinians living in "sensitive" areas and to give them time to leave the area in the event of Israeli attacks. The objective is to avoid a new mass exodus, like the one that occurred in the North.
It is difficult to say whether such a precaution will be enough. The only certainty: Antony Blinken, the American Secretary of State, set certain limits not to be crossed on Thursday during a meeting with the war cabinet. He made it clear that the displacement of the population in the North cannot be repeated in the South and added: “It is imperative that Israel gives Palestinians displaced in the South the choice to return to the North as soon as conditions will permit.” According to media leaks, Antony Blinken stressed that time is running out for Israel as the longer the war drags on, the more international pressure will increase on both Israel and the United States to stop the war. .
He responded to the Israeli chief of staff, General Herzi Halevi, who estimated that the fighting would last “several weeks at least”. Benjamin Netanyahu and the Minister of Defense, Yoav Gallant, went even further by proclaiming that an IDF offensive could take the “time it takes”, even “months to recover all the hostages, eradicate Hamas and ensure that the Gaza Strip is no longer used for attacks against Israel.
But these martial declarations were only half-convincing. Qatar, which played a key role in the ceasefire agreement, including the participation in the discussions of David Barnea, the head of Mossad, indicated that it is in favor of continuing efforts with all the protagonists with a view to achieving a “humanitarian pause”. Egyptian officials are on the same page. In Israel, a senior official quoted by public radio mentioned a scenario according to which the clashes would be limited to “a few days”, which should, according to him, be enough to force the hand of Hamas so that it releases hostages. The resumption of war would only be an episode between two negotiation sessions.
The other unknown concerns the reaction of Lebanese Hezbollah, which respected the ceasefire agreement, without being a party to it, after having fired multiple rockets towards the north of Israel, causing the evacuation of around ten border localities. The skirmishes began again on Friday but with reduced intensity at first.