U.S. tells Israel: Connect Gaza operation to political strategy

U.S. tells Israel: Connect Gaza operation to political strategy

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan reaffirmed to senior Israeli officials Sunday a need for the government to “connect its military operations [in Gaza] to a political strategy” to ensure a lasting defeat of Hamas, a complete hostage release and a better future for the enclave, the White House said.

Sullivan, who met in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, also proposed “a series of concrete measures” to ensure more aid enters Gaza, the White House said in a statement, and discussed steps for a more effective system to protect humanitarian workers delivering that aid.

Sullivan traveled to Israel after meeting in Saudi Arabia with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The pair “reviewed the strategic relations between the two countries,” the state-run Saudi Press Agency said, and discussed needs for more humanitarian aid in Gaza and a path to a two-state solution for Palestinians.

The Biden administration is eager to complete a deal with Saudi Arabia that would cool regional tensions — but it’s unclear what form it might take. U.S. officials once hoped for a regional deal in which Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel and that would include a Palestinian state. But as negotiations for a cease-fire in Gaza have faltered, so, too, have hopes of a larger diplomatic settlement.


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Netanyahu opposes Palestinian statehood, but he has not identified an alternative that would allow Israeli forces to secure military gains on the ground in Gaza and eventually withdraw from the territory. Some Arab countries have suggested that a Palestinian unity government should assume responsibility for security in Gaza, but after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to step down, plans to revamp the authority also appeared to have stalled.

Netanyahu faces an ultimatum from war cabinet member Benny Gantz that threatens to destabilize his fragile coalition government. Gantz warned Saturday that he would resign from the cabinet if it was unable to draft and approve a postwar plan for Gaza, including the return of hostages, the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip and an alternative to Hamas rule, by June 8. Netanyahu said Gantz’s demands would mean a defeat for Israel and an end to the war, Israeli media reported.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), speaking before Israel’s parliament Sunday, criticized President Biden for blocking arms deliveries to Israel and called on Washington to supply whatever is necessary for the Israeli military “to achieve total victory.”

“There is no excuse for an American president to block aid to Israel,” she said. Biden’s threat this month to halt U.S. offensive weapons to Israel if it moves ahead with its invasion of Rafah drew GOP criticism. In her speech, Stefanik presented the Republican Party as the true allies of Israel, and described Israel’s offensive against Hamas as a “just war.”

Stefanik also praised the policies of former president Donald Trump, including decisions to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to cut off funding to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

Heavy fighting continued in northern Gaza, as Israeli forces pressed on with their multiday operation at the Jabalya refugee camp. (Video: Reuters)

The Israel Defense Forces said it was continuing its multiday operation in Jabalya, a refugee camp in northern Gaza. Doctors working at al-Awda Hospital there said that Israeli troops were surrounding the facility. “We are now totally besieged,” Bakr Abusafeya told The Washington Post on Sunday. He said that hospital staff were unable to leave the facility out of fear they might be attacked “by drones that are firing at every moving object.” The IDF said in response that “we cannot comment as to the location of our forces.” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the situation “deeply worrisome.”

An Israeli airstrike struck a house in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, killing at least 31 people, according to Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for Gaza’s civil defense responders. At least 20 people were injured in the attack, he said, with searches ongoing. The IDF told The Post that it was operating in the camp to dismantle Hamas capabilities and that it “follows international law and takes feasible precautions to mitigate civilian harm.” Its statement did not mention reports of casualties.

Nearly 800,000 Palestinians have been forced to flee Rafah since May 6 after Israel launched a military operation, Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, said Saturday. The designated humanitarian zones, he said, are ill-equipped to handle the influx. “No place is safe. No one is safe,” he added.

The IDF said it recovered the body of Israeli hostage Ron Benjamin, who was killed during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and whose body was subsequently taken to Gaza. Benjamin, 53, was a father of two and was out for a bicycle ride with friends near Kibbutz Beeri when he was killed, the IDF said. On Friday, the IDF said it recovered the bodies of three more hostages in Gaza: Shani Louk, 22; Amit Esther Bouskila, 28; and Itzhak Gelerenter, 58. The three were killed on Oct. 7, it said.

At least 35,456 people have been killed and 79,476 injured in Gaza since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says the majority of the dead are women and children. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, including more than 300 soldiers, and says 282 soldiers have been killed since the launch of its military operation in Gaza.

Lior Soroka and Sammy Westfall contributed to this report.

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