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Israeli defense chief challenges Netanyahu over Gaza war plans on TV


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was publicly challenged about post-war plans for the Gaza Strip by his own defense chief, who vowed to oppose any long-term military rule by Israel over the ravaged Palestinian enclave.

The televised statement by Defence Minister Yoav Gallant marked the most vocal dissent from within Israel's top echelon against Netanyahu during a seven-month-old and multi-front conflict that has set off political fissures at home and abroad.

Netanyahu hinted, in a riposte which did not explicitly name Gallant, that the retired admiral was making "excuses" for not yet having destroyed Hamas in a conflict now in its eight month. But the veteran conservative premier soon appeared to be outflanked within his own war cabinet.

Centrist ex-general Benny Gantz, the only voting member of the forum other than Netanyahu and Gallant, said the defense minister had "spoken the truth."

An Israeli air and ground offensives continue to hit Khan Younis. /Saher Alghorra/AP
An Israeli air and ground offensives continue to hit Khan Younis. /Saher Alghorra/AP

An Israeli air and ground offensives continue to hit Khan Younis. /Saher Alghorra/AP

While reiterating the Netanyahu government's goals of defeating Hamas and recovering remaining hostages from the October 7 cross-border rampage by the Islamist faction, Gallant said these must be complemented by laying the groundwork for alternative Palestinian rule.

"We must dismantle Hamas' governing capabilities in Gaza. The key to this goal is military action, and the establishment of a governing alternative in Gaza," Gallant said. "In the absence of such an alternative, only two negative options remain: Hamas' rule in Gaza or Israeli military rule in Gaza."

Gallant said that, since October, he had tried to promote a plan to set up a "non-hostile Palestinian governing alternative" to Hamas - but got no response from the Israeli cabinet.

The open disagreement occurred at a time when Israel's tanks pushed into the heart of Jabalia in northern Gaza, facing anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs from militants concentrated there, while in the south its forces pounded Rafah.

The slow progress of Israel's offensive highlighted the difficulty of achieving Netanyahu's aim of eradicating the militant group.

Israel says four Hamas battalions are now in Rafah along with hostages abducted during the October 7 attack, but faces pressure from the UN, Europe and the U.S. not to invade the city, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinian civilians are sheltering.

Israel's military said on Thursday that five soldiers had been killed by friendly fire in the area of Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, where the intense fighting has resumed.  


The latest fatalities take to 278 the number of Israeli troops killed in the Gaza military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.

Fighting has raged in recent days in the northern Gaza Strip, with an army spokesman saying there were "attempts by Hamas to rebuild its military capabilities" months after Israel had declared the Palestinian armed group's command structure in the area dismantled.

Bahrain summit

Meanwhile, Arab leaders are gathering on Thursday in Bahrain for a summit dominated by the Israel-Hamas war which has been raging in the Gaza Strip without a ceasefire in sight.

It is the first time the bloc has come together since an extraordinary summit in Riyadh, capital of neighboring Saudi Arabia, in November that also involved leaders from the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, based in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

At that meeting, leaders condemned Israeli forces' "barbaric" actions in Gaza but declined to approve punitive economic and political steps against the country, despite growing anger in the region and widespread support for the Palestinian cause.

That could change this time around as backing builds globally for a two-state solution long advocated by Arab countries, said Kuwaiti analyst Zafer al-Ajmi.

Netanyahu on Wednesday said nearly 500,000 people had been evacuated from the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where he is insisting on targeting remaining Hamas battalions despite objections from global leaders.

Displaced Palestinians in Khan Younis./ AFP
Displaced Palestinians in Khan Younis./ AFP

Displaced Palestinians in Khan Younis./ AFP


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He also disputed claims that Israeli operations there would trigger a "humanitarian catastrophe", though much of the international community remains squarely opposed to a Rafah invasion.

Against that backdrop, and with mediator Qatar describing talks on a truce and hostage release deal as close to a stalemate, "the tone of Arab countries has changed", Ajmi said, raising the possibility that the final declaration out of Thursday's summit could include "binding" measures.

The message would be especially strong coming from a summit held in Bahrain, one of two Gulf countries along with the United Arab Emirates to normalize ties with Israel in 2020 under the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords.

Rafah crossing proposal

Egypt has rejected an Israeli proposal for the two countries to coordinate to re-open the Rafah crossing between Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, and to manage its future operation, two Egyptian security sources said.

Officials from Israeli security service Shin Bet presented the plan on a visit to Cairo on Wednesday, amid rising tension between the two countries following Israel's military advance last week into Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by war have been sheltering.

The Rafah crossing has been a main conduit for humanitarian aid entering Gaza, and an exit point for medical evacuees from the territory, where a humanitarian crisis has deepened and some people are at risk of famine.

Israeli defense chief challenges Netanyahu over Gaza war plans on TV

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Source(s): Reuters ,AFP
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