POLITICS

Far-right Israel minister suggests that Trump would give more US support to offensive in Gaza

Feb 4, 2024, 5:43 AM | Updated: 12:58 pm

JERUSALEM (AP) — A far-right minister in Israel’s government has criticized President Joe Biden and said that having Donald Trump in power would allow more freedom to fight Hamas. The comments sparked outrage among other Israeli officials on Sunday and highlighted the sensitivity of relations as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the region again this week.

The Biden administration has skirted Congress to rush weapons to Israel and shielded it from international calls for a cease-fire in the four months since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. But the White House has urged Israel to take greater measures to avoid harming civilians and allow more aid to besieged Gaza.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that Biden was hindering Israel’s war effort.

“Instead of giving us his full backing, Biden is busy with giving humanitarian aid and fuel (to Gaza), which goes to Hamas,” Ben-Gvir said. “If Trump was in power, the U.S. conduct would be completely different.”

His remarks drew fire from Benny Gantz, a retired general and member of Netanyahu’s three-man War Cabinet, who said Ben-Gvir was “causing tremendous damage” to U.S.-Israeli relations. Opposition leader Yair Lapid, also posting on X, said Ben-Gvir’s remarks prove that he “does not understand foreign relations.”

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemned Ben-Gvir’s comments as “racist” and called for international sanctions against him, saying he threatens the region’s stability.

Netanyahu, without mentioning Ben-Gvir by name, appeared to refer to his remarks during a weekly Cabinet meeting. “I am not in need of any assistance in navigating our relations with the U.S. and the international community,” he said.

Ben-Gvir, along with other far-right figures, has called for “voluntary” mass emigration of Palestinians from Gaza and the return of Jewish settlements, which Israel dismantled when it withdrew troops from the territory in 2005. The Biden administration opposes any such scenario.

Ben-Gvir and other key members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition have threatened to bring down the government if they believe he is too soft on Hamas. Netanyahu said the military was carrying out “very aggressive raids” in northern and central Gaza while dealing with remaining Hamas battalions around Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah.

Israel’s military said Sunday it had raided the headquarters of Hamas’ brigade in Khan Younis in the south and found what it called training materials for the Oct. 7 attack including “models simulating entrance gates of Israeli kibbutzim, military bases and IDF armored vehicles.”

The war in Gaza has leveled vast swaths of the tiny enclave, displaced 85% of its population and pushed a quarter of residents to starvation. The Health Ministry in Gaza said 127 bodies had been brought to hospitals in the last 24 hours, bringing the overall death toll to 27,365. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says most of those killed are women and children.

In central Gaza, Israeli airstrikes hit two houses and a mosque in Deir al-Balah and killed 29 people and wounded at least 60 others including children, according to an Associated Press journalist at the scene. At Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, a nurse cleaned the head injuries of a boy who sat between two other children, one trembling, the other in tears.

Other Palestinians found shelter at the hospital but little relief. “Someone like me has been here for three months or two-and-a-half months, and I haven’t had a shower. What can we do? We want to go back to our home,” said Basemah Al-Haddad, displaced from Gaza City.

Two children were killed in separate airstrikes in Rafah, according to the registration office at the hospital where the bodies were taken. The first hit a house in the Jeneina refugee camp and killed a 12-year-old. The second hit a room west of the Rafah border crossing, killing a 2-year-old.

The bodies lay on the hospital floor. A female relative bent down to gently touch one child’s face.

More humanitarian aid to Gaza will be a “top priority” as Blinken visits the region, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told CBS. Blinken is set to begin Monday in Saudi Arabia and will stop in Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank.

Another focus is Israel’s tense negotiations mediated by the U.S., Qatar and Egypt aimed at freeing more than 100 remaining captives taken in the Oct. 7 attack in return for a cease-fire and the release of Palestinians jailed in Israel.

“It’s up to Hamas to come forward and respond to what is a serious proposal,” Sullivan told NBC, adding there’s no clear idea how many hostages remain alive.

Hamas and other militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in the Oct. 7 attack and abducted around 250. More than 100 captives, mostly women and children, were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Hamas has said it won’t release more hostages until Israel ends its offensive. It also demands the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners. Netanyahu has publicly ruled out both demands.

Hamas is expected to respond to the latest cease-fire offer in the coming days.

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Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press journalist Wafaa Shurafa in Deir-al-Balah contributed.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the Israel-Hamas war at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

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Far-right Israel minister suggests that Trump would give more US support to offensive in Gaza