US threatens sanctions on Israeli group for attacking Gaza aid

Joe Biden blames Hamas for the stalemate in negotiations for a ceasefire and hostage release deal

Medical staff at the Ahli Arab Hospital mourn a nurse who was killed during Israeli bombardment at the Shati refugee camp. Photograph: Omar Al Qatta/AFP via Getty Images

Washington has announced it will impose sanctions on an Israeli group for attacking humanitarian aid convoys bound for Gaza.

The sanctions target Tsav 9 which, in co-ordination with other right-wing activist groups, has succeeded in blocking, harassing and damaging aid shipments, claiming that such deliveries strengthen Hamas control in Gaza. The sanctions are Washington’s latest move against actors it believes threaten the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Palestinians have been desperately in need of aid as Israel continues its eight-month invasion and bombardment, which has killed at least 37,000 people, according to the territory’s health ministry. Israel has also faced accusations of blocking aid, which it denies doing.

Right-wing elements in Israel’s government, with links to the settler movement, have opposed US president Joe Biden’s effort to forge a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas to end the Gaza war that began with Hamas’ attacks on southern Israel on October 7th, which killed about 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies.

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Meanwhile, Israeli troops have continued their advance westwards in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. The military says it aims to end the operation in Rafah towards the end of June, by dealing a severe blow to the four Hamas battalions in the city without fully conquering it. After this, it says pinpoint raids will be ordered in areas where Hamas militants reassert their presence across the enclave.

Mr Biden has blamed Hamas for the stalemate in negotiations for a ceasefire and hostage release deal. “I laid down an approach that was endorsed by the United Nations security council, by the G7, by the Israelis, and the biggest hang-up so far is Hamas refusing to sign on even though they had submitted something,” he said.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told CNN that “no one has any idea” how many of the Israeli hostages still being held captive by the organisation were still alive. He reiterated that any deal to release them must include guarantees of a permanent ceasefire and the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

The absence of a deal in Gaza is making it very difficult to obtain a ceasefire in the north, where cross-border fire this week escalated to levels unseen since Hizbullah first fired rockets into Galilee, one day after the start of the Gaza war.

More than 60,000 residents of northern Israel have evacuated their homes, while more than 100,000 residents of southern Lebanon have also fled the border zone. Hizbullah has fired more than 6,000 rockets and launched hundreds of attack drones, causing massive destruction and fires across Galilee and the occupied Golan Heights.

An Israeli government spokesperson said Lebanon, Hizbullah and Iran bear full responsibility for the border flare-up.

Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati said on Friday his country was renewing its commitment to UN resolution 1701, passed at the end of the 2006 Lebanese war, which ensured Hizbullah forces would remain north of the Litani River and away from the border with Israel. He accused Israel of “destructive aggression and terrorism” in its response to Hizbullah’s attacks.

Defence minister Yoav Gallant declared on Friday that “Israel will not take part in an international committee to defuse tensions on the northern border if France participates in it, criticising Paris for “blatantly disregarding Hamas atrocities”.

However, the Israeli foreign ministry criticised Mr Gallant’s comments, saying “the statements against France are incorrect and inappropriate”.

French president Emmanuel Macron announced on Thursday that the United States, France and Israel had agreed to work together to step up efforts to push forward a roadmap presented by Paris earlier this year to defuse tensions between Hizbullah and Israel. – Additional reporting: Reuters

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem