Divisions emerge among Israeli officials regarding the war against Hamas

JERUSALEM (AP) — A member of Israel's war cabinet questioned the country's strategy to release hostages held by Hamas, saying only a ceasefire could free them, as the prime minister rejected U.S. calls to scale back its offensive.

The comments by Gadi Eisenkot, a former army chief, represent the latest sign of disagreement among senior Israeli officials over the government's direction. The war against HamasAnd now in his fourth month.

In his first public statements about the course of the war, Eisenkot said that the allegations Dozens of hostages They could be released by means other than a ceasefire, which amounts to spreading “delusions” — an implicit criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads a five-member war cabinet and who insists that continuing the war will lead to their release.

Eisenkot's statements came at a time when some relatives of the hostages intensified their protests, indicating growing frustration over the government's lack of progress towards reaching an agreement to release the remaining prisoners.

Meanwhile, communications began to gradually return in Gaza after an interruption that lasted nearly eight days, the longest interruption since the start of the war. Telephone and internet outages have made it nearly impossible for Gazans to communicate with the outside world or within the Strip, hampering the delivery of humanitarian aid and rescue efforts amid ongoing Israeli bombing.

AP correspondent Ben Thomas reports.

Over the past week, Gazans have had difficulty getting a signal on their phones. Many head to the beach, where some can catch a non-Palestinian net. With families scattered across the small Mediterranean region, networks are essential to ensure that relatives remain alive while Israeli air strikes destroy homes.

Karam Mezri said, referring to the others who were sitting with him on a rock on the beach in central Gaza, checking their phones: “People came behind me to check on their friends, families, and loved ones.”

Hamza Al-Barasi, a displaced person from Gaza City, said that even when communications return, they are “intermittent and unstable.”

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The power outage also made it difficult for information to get out of Gaza about the daily death and destruction caused by the Israeli attack. The attack destroyed large parts of the Gaza Strip, which is inhabited by about 2.3 million people, while Israel pledged to crush Hamas after its unprecedented attack. October 7 raid on Israel. The attack led to the killing of about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and the holding of 250 others hostage. Israel said more than 130 hostages remained in Gaza, but not all of them were believed to be alive.

israel attack, One of the bloodiest and most destructive Military campaigns in modern history have killed approximately 25,000 Palestinians. According to the health authorities in GazaMore than 80% of the region's population was uprooted.

Israel has it too Cut off all but a few supplies To the besieged territory, including food, water and fuel, causing what UN officials say is a humanitarian catastrophe.

The United States, Israel's closest ally, has provided strong military and political support for the campaign, but has increasingly called on Israel to reduce its attacks and bombing. Taking the necessary steps to establish a Palestinian state After the war – a proposal strongly rejected by Netanyahu.

Speaking during a press conference broadcast on national television on Thursday, Netanyahu reiterated his long position Opposition to the two-state solutionSaying that Israel “must have security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River.”

Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Galant have said the fighting will continue until Hamas is crushed, and say only military action can lead to the hostages' release.

But commentators have begun to question whether Netanyahu's goals are realistic, given the slow pace of the attack and mounting international criticism, including Charges of genocide in the United Nations World CourtThis is something Israel strongly denies. Critics accuse Netanyahu of trying to avoid looming investigations into government failures, preserve his coalition and postpone elections. Opinion polls indicate a decline in Netanyahu's popularity To stand trial on corruption chargesIt decreased during the war.

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Speaking on Israeli Channel 12's investigative program “Uvda”, Eisenkot said that the Israeli hostages “will not return alive unless there is an agreement linked to a significant cessation of fighting.” He said large rescue operations were unlikely because the hostages appeared to be spread out, many in underground tunnels.

Eisenkot, whose son was killed in December during fighting in Gaza, said that claiming that the hostages could be freed by means other than the agreement “is spreading illusions.”

The hostages' families grew increasingly frustrated with the government. The father of one of the hostages began a hunger strike Friday night outside Netanyahu's private residence in the coastal town of Caesarea, vowing to eat only a quarter of pita bread a day — the hostages' reported daily meal — until the prime minister agreed to meet with the hostages. for him. Dozens joined him in what organizers said were overnight protests.

The previous day, Israeli police armed with rifles clashed with protesters who blocked a major highway in Tel Aviv to demand an immediate agreement to release the hostages. Israeli media reported that police arrested seven demonstrators overnight.

Defense Minister Gallant said forces had disrupted the Hamas command structure in northern Gaza, from which large numbers of troops were withdrawn earlier in the week, and that the focus was now on the southern half of the Strip.

But Eisenkot also denied suggestions that the army had dealt a decisive blow to Hamas.

Eisenkot said: “We have not yet reached a strategic achievement, or rather only partially.” “We did not overthrow Hamas.”

The extremist group emerged Fighting continued throughout Gazaeven in the most devastated areas, and rockets were fired at Israel.

Eisenkot also confirmed this in his interview A pre-emptive strike against the Lebanese Hezbollah militia was cancelled At the last minute during the first days of the war. He said he was among those who opposed such a strike at the October 11 Cabinet meeting, which he said made him teary-eyed from the screaming.

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Eisenkot said such an attack would have constituted a “strategic mistake” and would likely lead to a regional war.

In a veiled criticism of Netanyahu, Eisenkot also said that strategic decisions about the direction of the war had to be made urgently and that the discussion about the endgame should have begun immediately after the war began.

He said he studies every day whether he should remain in the war cabinet, which also includes Netanyahu, Gallant, former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and Ron Dermer, Netanyahu's strategic affairs minister. Eisenkot is a member of parliament from the opposition National Unity Alliance headed by Gantz.

“I know what my red line is,” Eisenkot said when asked when he would resign. “It's tied to the hostages, that's one of the goals, but it's also tied to the way we need to manage this war.”

The war has spread across the Middle East, with Iranian-backed groups attacking American and Israeli targets. The fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon threatens to turn into an all-out war The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen Continuing to target international shipping despite US-led air strikes.

The United States conducted a The sixth strike against the Houthi rebels In Yemen on Friday, anti-ship missile launchers that were prepared to fire were destroyed, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss… Ongoing military operations. President Joe Biden admitted that the bombing of militants had not yet stopped their attacks on shipping in the United States The crucial Red Sea corridor.

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Jobin reported from Rafah, Gaza Strip, and Marwa reported from Beirut.

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