Israel: monthly report February 2024

February was another complex month for Israel, marked by attempts at mediation with Hamas for the release of hostages and increasing pressure from the United States, and a growing portion of the international community, for a ceasefire in Gaza. The death toll among civilians continues to rise, and the humanitarian situation of the displaced is increasingly concerning. Various plans have been presented to negotiators from the USA, Egypt, and Qatar to mitigate the situation. Hamas has repeatedly demanded, in addition to the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a varying number of hostages, the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Strip. Predictably, Israel has always refused to withdraw, calling the conditions proposed by the Islamist movement "insane." Negotiations have continued throughout the month. President Biden, who had hoped for a solution by March 4, expressed hope for a possible agreement before the start of Ramadan on March 10. According to some news leaked and reported by the media, after a meeting held on February 23 in Paris, a possible plan would involve the release, in a first phase, of 40 hostages, including women, children, female soldiers, the elderly, and the sick, during a six-week ceasefire. In exchange for the hostages, Israel would release 400 Palestinian prisoners. Meanwhile, fighting has intensified in the south of Gaza and resumed in some areas of the north. It is also largely known that the Israeli government intends to conduct military operations in Rafah to dismantle the last Hamas battalions. Matthew Miller, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, commenting on this plan, reiterated that the United States "will not support any military campaign in Rafah" if Israel does not provide adequate explanations of what will happen to the people currently in the area. Meanwhile, the office of the Israeli Prime Minister announced that the IDF has presented a plan for the evacuation of Palestinian civilians from Rafah and the operational strategy for the attack. The statement does not provide details on how or where the displaced will be transferred.

Internationally, Tel Aviv has faced numerous criticisms. On February 8, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Israel for the fifth time since the beginning of the conflict in Gaza. Blinken reaffirmed Israel's right to defend itself and the unwavering support of the USA for its ally but also expressed extreme concern about actions and rhetoric, including by government officials, "that inflame tensions, jeopardize international support" and Israel's own security. Some of his final statements sounded particularly harsh: "Israelis were dehumanized in the most horrific way on October 7. Hostages have been dehumanized since that day. But this does not authorize dehumanizing others." American reprimands continued throughout the month, and Biden, in the harshest tones ever used with the historical ally, described Israeli operations in Gaza as "over the line."

The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, has also intervened several times, concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Regarding Biden's comment, he stated that to avoid the death of too many civilians in the Strip, sending fewer weapons to Israel would be enough. In the following days, he announced that 26 of the 27 EU countries are calling for an immediate humanitarian pause "that may lead to a sustainable ceasefire" and must coincide with the unconditional release of hostages and the provision of humanitarian aid. Italy has also taken a more critical stance towards Tel Aviv. Already on the morning of February 13, Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani declared in an interview that "at this point, Israel's reaction is disproportionate, there are too many victims who have nothing to do with Hamas." Then, the Parliament approved a commitment "to support every initiative aimed at calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire."

It is difficult to predict the outcome of the mediation for the release of hostages and a ceasefire, as both parties in conflict seem to lack flexibility in negotiations. Yet, a truce is inevitable, especially given the strong pressures Israel is facing, which have increased after the death of 100 Palestinians who had attacked humanitarian aid trucks just arrived in the Strip.

The facts are still to be ascertained, but the IDF is accused of firing at the crowd – an accusation rejected by Israel – and the international community calls for an independent investigation. Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris has declared that there must be an immediate ceasefire, and Benny Gantz, leader of the National Unity Party and member of the current Israeli war cabinet, is about to travel to Washington for talks with the Biden Administration.

Download the February 2024 report

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