Middle East: Israel attacks Hezbollah positions in Lebanon again - ceasefire in Gaza is on the brink

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is demanding Hamas give in before further negotiations on a ceasefire and the release of more hostages in the Gaza war.

Middle East: Israel attacks Hezbollah positions in Lebanon again - ceasefire in Gaza is on the brink

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is demanding Hamas give in before further negotiations on a ceasefire and the release of more hostages in the Gaza war. First, as requested, the Islamist organizations must submit a list with the names of the hostages still alive in their control, said the right-wing head of government in a speech in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening. On the same day, delegations from Hamas and the mediating states USA and Qatar arrived in Cairo for another round of talks. Israel, on the other hand, has not sent a delegation for the time being. Meanwhile, the fact that Benny Gantz, minister in Israel's war cabinet, traveled to Washington for talks without Netanyahu's consent caused sharp criticism internally, according to the Israeli media. Gantz is pushing for an agreement and has said that the release of the hostages is more urgent and important than Netanyahu's goal of destroying Hamas.

Netanyahu said it was too early to say whether there would be a concept for a deal in the next few days. "We are making great efforts to be successful, but one thing is clear to you - we will not capitulate to Hamas' delusional demands," affirmed the head of government, who is under pressure domestically over the hostage issue. He also first wants to know whether Hamas agrees to the number of Palestinian prisoners stated in the mediators' last proposal that would have to be released in exchange for hostages. Netanyahu said he had not yet received an answer to his questions and rejected "international pressure to end the war" before Israel had achieved all of its goals. Media reports recently said that 40 hostages could be exchanged for 400 Palestinians in Israeli prisons.

According to local media reports, there are doubts in Israeli circles as to whether an agreement on a hostage release and a ceasefire will be reached before the fasting month of Ramadan, holy for Muslims, which begins around March 10th. Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Jihia al-Sinwar, is deliberately trying to sabotage negotiations to provoke unrest across the Middle East during Ramadan, Israeli news site Ynet quoted a senior Israeli official as saying on Sunday evening. "Sinwar prefers to escalate tensions in the Middle East and cause bloodshed and chaos in the Gaza Strip during Ramadan rather than choosing the alternative of a six-week ceasefire and humanitarian aid, which would significantly ease the suffering of the local population in the Gaza Strip," said the officer.

Israel's Defense Minister Joav Galant recently said that Hamas wanted to take the war from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. "Hamas' goal is to burn Judea and Samaria (Hebrew for West Bank), and if possible the Temple Mount (in Jerusalem)." According to the news portal "Axios" on Sunday, US President Joe Biden is urging Egypt and Qatar to persuade Hamas to a temporary ceasefire before Ramadan. The three mediating states agree that reaching an agreement currently depends on Hamas. Hamas calls for a comprehensive ceasefire. According to US information, the mediator's proposal only provides for a six-week ceasefire. An unnamed Israeli official was quoted by Axios as saying he believes the chances of an agreement are 50-50.

Meanwhile, Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz arrived in Washington on Sunday, where he plans to meet US Vice President Kamala Harris and national security adviser Jake Sullivan this Monday. Gantz said in January: "The most urgent matter is the repatriation of the hostages; it is more important than any element of the fight." According to media reports, the Israeli politician wants to meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday. According to Axios, Qatar's Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani is also expected in Washington on the same day.

US Vice President Kamala Harris has meanwhile criticized Israel for inadequate aid deliveries to the Gaza Strip and called for an immediate ceasefire in the Palestinian territory. "Given the huge amount of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire for at least the next six weeks," said Harris, who will meet influential Israeli minister Benny Gantz in Washington on Monday, in the state of Alabama on Sunday.

A proposal for a corresponding ceasefire, which would also enable more aid deliveries to the Gaza Strip and the release of hostages held by Hamas, is "on the table," said US President Joe Biden's deputy in the city of Selma. "Hamas must agree to this deal." The USA, together with Egypt and Qatar, are trying to broker a ceasefire between Israel and the Islamist Palestinian organization Hamas.

In an unusually sharp manner, Harris also called on the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow more aid supplies into the Gaza Strip. "The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid," the vice president said. "No excuses." Israel must open more border crossings and must not impose “unnecessary restrictions” on the delivery of aid.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also called for more aid deliveries to the Gaza Strip. “People urgently need more food, water and other help,” Blinken wrote on the short message service X, formerly Twitter.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military continues the fight against Hamas and says it has now killed a prominent member of the Islamists who was responsible for recruiting terrorists. The army announced on Sunday evening that Mahmoud Muhammad Abd Khad was also involved in raising funds for terrorism and to support Hamas's military activities. The army had previously announced that “more than 100 terrorists” had been killed in northern Gaza. In addition, 35 Hamas and Islamic Jihad facilities, including weapons depots and production facilities, were destroyed. “Dozens of terrorists” were arrested. All information provided by the Israeli military could not be independently verified.

The Gaza war was triggered by the terrorist attack by Hamas and other groups in southern Israel on October 7th last year. The terrorists killed 1,200 people in the unprecedented massacre and kidnapped 250 more as hostages in the Gaza Strip: Israel launched a military attack on the coastal area to crush Hamas. According to the Hamas-controlled health authority in Gaza, 30,410 Palestinians have died so far, although this number includes both civilians and fighters.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military said it was again attacking positions of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon. Warplanes hit a Shiite militia military facility in the area of ​​Aita ash-Sha'b and terrorist infrastructure in the area of ​​the Lebanese border town of Kfarkela, the army said on Sunday evening. During the day there were a number of rockets fired from Lebanon towards northern Israel. This information also could not be independently verified. Since the beginning of the Gaza war, there has been repeated shelling in the Israeli-Lebanese border region. Israel's Defense Minister Galant recently announced that he would increase military pressure on Hezbollah until the Shiite militia withdrew from the border with Israel.