Netanyahu disbands inner war cabinet

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dissolved the six-member war cabinet, an Israeli official has said, in a widely expected move that came after the departure from government of the centrist former general Benny Gantz.

Mr Netanyahu is now expected to hold consultations about the Gaza war with a small group of ministers, including Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer who had been in the war cabinet.

The prime minister had faced demands from the nationalist-religious partners in his coalition, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, to be included in the war cabinet, a move which would have intensified strains with international partners including the United States.

The forum was formed after Mr Gantz joined Mr Netanyahu in a national unity government at the start of the war in October and also included Mr Gantz’s partner Gadi Eisenkot and Aryeh Deri, head of the religious party Shas, as observers.

Mr Gantz and Mr Eisenkot both left the government last week, over what they said was Mr Netanyahu’s failure to form a strategy for the Gaza war.

Meanwhile, Israel struck Gaza today and witnesses reported blasts in the besieged territory’s south, but fighting has largely subsided after a day of relative calm and as Muslims marked Eid al-Adha.

A woman pictured at al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital after Israeli attacks on Bureij Refugee Camp

In a holiday message late yesterday, US President Joe Biden called for the implementation of a ceasefire plan he outlined last month, saying it was “the best way to end the violence in Gaza” and to help civilians suffering “the horrors of the war between Hamas and Israel”.

A daytime “pause” for aid deliveries announced at the weekend by Israel’s military around a southern Gaza route appeared to be holding, while elsewhere in the Palestinian territory an AFP correspondent said strikes and shelling have decreased.

In Gaza City, medics at Al-Ahli hospital said at least five people were killed in two separate air strikes, and witnesses reported tank shelling in the southern neighbourhood of Zeitun.

At least one strike hit Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, residents said.

The dead and wounded are brought to al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital after Israeli attacks on Bureij Refugee Camp

Palestinian officials in the far-southern city of Rafah reported tank shelling early today, before the start of the daily “local, tactical pause of military activity” announced by the army.

It said the pause “for humanitarian purposes will take place from 8.00am (5am Irish time) until 7pm (4pm Irish time) every day until further notice along the road that leads from the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Salah al-Din road and then northwards”.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP “there was no change” in the military’s policy and stressed fighting “continues as planned”.

An army spokesperson said the pause was in effect today, and the military in a statement said troops were still operating in Rafah and central Gaza, reporting “close-quarters combat” that killed several militants.

Witnesses told AFP they could hear blasts in Rafah’s city centre and west this morning.

Humanitarian needs

A map released by the army showed the declared humanitarian route extending up to Rafah’s European Hospital, about 10km from Kerem Shalom.

Mahmud Basal, spokesman for the civil defence agency in the Hamas-ruled territory, said that apart from the deadly Gaza strikes overnight, “the other areas of the Gaza Strip are somewhat calm”.

He reported military movements and gunfire in parts of Rafah as well as Bureij camp in central Gaza.

Yesterday, the first day of Eid al-Adha, or the feast of the sacrifice, the spokesman said “calm has prevailed across all of Gaza”.

The United Nations has welcomed the Israeli announcement of the pause, although “this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need”, said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.

He called for “further concrete measures by Israel to address longstanding issues” on humanitarian needs.

Gazans “urgently need food, water, sanitation, shelter, and health care, with many living near piles of solid waste, heightening health risks,” Mr Laerke said.

Dire shortages of food and other essentials in Gaza have been exacerbated by overland access restrictions and the closure of the key Rafah crossing with Egypt since Israeli forces seized its Palestinian side in early May.

The military said the pause was in effect as part of efforts to “increase the volumes of humanitarian aid” following discussions with the United Nations and other organisations.

It was announced a day after eight Israeli soldiers were killed in a blast near Rafah and three more troops died elsewhere, in one of the heaviest losses for the army in more than eight months of war against Hamas militants.

‘End the war’

The war was triggered by Hamas’s unprecedented 7 October attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive aimed at wiping out Hamas has killed at least 37,337 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.

Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators have been pushing for a new Gaza truce, so far without success.

Washington has been pressing Israel and Hamas to formally accept Joe Biden’s truce plan, which would allow an initial six-week pause to fighting.

“I strongly believe that the three-phase ceasefire proposal Israel has made to Hamas and that the UN Security Council has endorsed is the best way to end the violence in Gaza and ultimately end the war,” the US president said.

The only previous truce lasted one week in November and saw many hostages released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, while increased aid flowed into Gaza.

Hamas has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire – demands Israel has repeatedly rejected.

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