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The Region Gulf – ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

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Israel Concludes Major Gaza Campaign, Revealing UNRWA-Hamas Links and Leveraging AI for Covert Operations Against Hamas

Published on Feb 1, 2024 

By: Rania Kisar

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★ ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES 

Monday January 29, 2024

1.Israel Nears End of Major Military Campaign in Gaza, Exposes UNRWA-Hamas Connections. 

On this day, after four months of military operations, Israel estimated that 2,000 Hamas members are incapacitated, the Israeli government released documents proving at least 190 members of UNRWA staff are Hamas or Palestinian Jihad, and continued destroying the vast network of underground tunnels used by Hamas members as part of Israel’s broader strategy to dismantle Hamas’ underground tunnel network, allegedly used for command and control, weapon transport, and holding about 130 hostages.

In a press conference, Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari reported that approximately 2,000 Hamas militants were killed by the Israeli army in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip. He noted that numerous Hamas leaders died, fled, or surrendered providing valuable intelligence. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant, speaking near the Gaza border, stated that around half of Hamas fighters were either killed or injured. He anticipated prolonged fighting in Gaza, emphasizing that Hamas lacks supplies, ammunition, and reinforcements. 

Meanwhile, Elon Levy, addressing the situation from the Israeli government’s viewpoint, accused UNRWA of serious offenses. His globally aired statement implicated the agency as a covert supporter of Hamas, outlining ‘recruitment, military activity, and aid distribution’ as the main forms of collusion. Levy contended that 10% of UNRWA staff have ties to Hamas or Jihad.  

Following Levy’s statement, Israeli intelligence provided concrete evidence, uncovering documents and identity cards that link approximately 190 UNRWA employees to Hamas or Palestinian Jihad. This evidence includes names and photographs of individuals involved in various activities, including the transport of an Israeli soldier’s body, coordination of weapon supplies, and management of militant transport. Among the implicated are an UNRWA teacher possessing an anti-tank missile, another caught photographing a hostage, and a store manager at an UNRWA school who allegedly set up a war command room for the jihad movement. In light of these findings, Israeli forces arrested several UNRWA workers traveling from Khan Yunis to Rafah and dismantled a hidden Palestinian Islamic Jihad underground weapons factory, seizing rockets and explosives concealed in U.N. Relief and Works Agency sacks.

In response to these allegations and potential funding issues, UNRWA announced the risk of suspending operations in Gaza and the region after February. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres emphasized the challenging conditions faced by UNRWA workers in humanitarian relief. 

Several nations, including key allies, openly opposed the United States’ decision to halt funding to UNRWA. In this context, the UAE, through Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, reinforced its support for UNRWA during talks with Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini. They stressed the necessity of safe humanitarian aid in Gaza and the importance of preventing further conflict and loss of life. Sheikh Abdullah praised UNRWA’s swift handling of internal issues and urged other donors to renew their support, highlighting UNRWA’s essential humanitarian role amidst ongoing conflict and allegations.

Axios reported that a group of Democratic Jewish U.S. Congress members discussed alternatives to UNRWA in Gaza, with a senior official suggesting six international organizations, including UNICEF and the World Food Programme, as potential replacements or supplements, indicating a pursuit of viable solutions for the humanitarian needs in Gaza amid complex regional politics and security concerns.

Last but not least in Monday’s events, the AP Press reported on a contentious development in southern Gaza where an Islamic cemetery was demolished. The Israeli army justified this action, stating that Hamas has been utilizing such sites for military operations. In a related move, the Israeli army disclosed its strategy of flooding the underground tunnel network in Gaza. This tactic aims to disrupt the extensive tunnel system used by Hamas for various purposes, including attacks on Israel, command and control operations, weapons transportation, and allegedly holding around 130 hostages

Following the reports of significant casualties among Hamas fighters and the controversial demolition of an Islamic cemetery in southern Gaza, tensions escalated further. An official from Hamas’ Health Ministry leveled grave accusations against Israel, alleging organ theft from the bodies managed by the Ministry of Health. These claims were echoed by the Palestinian News Agency “Wafa,” which reported inconsistencies in bodies returned by Israeli forces. Adding to the gravity, The Palestinian News Agency “Wafa” supported the allegations of misconduct, reporting anomalies in bodies that Israeli forces had returned. “Wafa” revealed that the Israeli army initially took 110 bodies from the Shifa Medical Complex, all casualties of their military actions in Gaza. However, they later returned only 100 of these bodies, raising questions about the missing ten. No response in Israeli media was found. 

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Tuesday January 30, 2024

2.Israel Uses AI-Powered Technologies to Identify Hamas Members; Conducts Covert Operations. 

Arab media sources revealed the Israeli military’s deployment of an AI-driven camera system along the Gaza-Rafah routes. This system, aimed at identifying Hamas operatives, reportedly distinguished 300 suspects from nearly 100,000 displaced Palestinians. These individuals, implicated in the October 7 attack, faced detention by Israeli forces.

On Tuesday, during a covert operation at Ibn Sina Hospital in Jenin, West Bank, Israeli commandos engaged with three members of a Hamas cell linked to the October 7 attacks near Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Shin Bet security agency, and Yamam police counter-terrorism unit executed this 10-minute operation, which involved disguising themselves as medical staff and Palestinian women. They targeted a third-floor room, resulting in the elimination of the suspects, including cell leader Muhammad Jalamneh, a Hamas spokesperson and attack planner, and operatives Muhammad and Basel Ghazawi. The IDF claimed the hospital was used as a strategic hideout for plotting imminent attacks. Muhammad was known for his involvement in attacks on Israeli troops, while Basel was associated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Since October 7, Israeli forces have arrested over 2,980 Palestinians in the West Bank, with more than 1,350 linked to Hamas. The Palestinian Authority reports over 300 Palestinian fatalities during this period. A recent incident included a roadside bomb killing a Border Police officer and wounding three, plus an airstrike in Jenin killing seven Palestinians. 

Israeli fatalities in Gaza increased to 223 since the onset of the ground offensive against Hamas, with three soldiers killed on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the army announced the death of Major (Reserve) Yitzhar Hoffman, 36, from Ishhar in the Galilee. Hoffman, a platoon leader in the Shaldag unit, was killed during combat in northern Gaza. Concurrently, a recent video published by the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, showcases a series of engagements with Israeli forces in the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City. This incident highlights a tactical shift, with Hamas operatives directly targeting Israeli military hardware, including vehicles and a tank, using light weapons and missiles, notably the “Al-Yassin-105.”

In the last intercepted story from Tuesday, January 30, 2024, Hamas issued a statement accusing Israel of executing approximately 30 Palestinians in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza Strip. According to Hamas, the victims were found in a school, executed while blindfolded and with their hands tied. This account is allegedly supported by the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club and local citizens. Hamas demanded that international human rights institutions document and prosecute these actions. Furthermore, Hamas highlighted the discovery of bodies in a Beit Lahia school as clear evidence of execution by Israeli forces. They also claim that photographic evidence shows Israeli forces publicly displaying blindfolded and naked Palestinian men in Gaza streets, with some allegedly killed for not following orders quickly enough. This narrative, as presented by Hamas, emphasizes their accusation of severe human rights violations by Israeli forces.

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Wednesday January 31, 2024

3.Strategic Intel Successes and Peace Efforts in the Gaza Strip. 

On January 31, the IDF reported uncovering a Hamas cell operation involving Jewish Israeli citizens unknowingly transporting weapons and explosives. This was part of a wider scheme where, from October 7 to late December. Approximately 350 IDF personnel, predominantly reservists, processed over 65 million electronic files and 500,000 physical documents. Their analysis was crucial in thwarting numerous potential Hamas ambushes. The operation exposed after seizing vital electronics from a Hamas intelligence headquarters included analyzing computers and cellphones, leading to a counterintelligence sting against Hamas operatives. It was discovered that these operatives, previously detained by the IDF and expelled to Gaza following the 2011 Gilad Schalit exchange, had manipulated Jewish Israelis, especially those from the Jerusalem area. They were misled into believing they were aiding Jews overseas, thereby inadvertently supporting Hamas’s logistical operations. This marks Hamas’s largest known attempt to recruit Jews as spies, a significant departure from earlier efforts targeting individuals with vulnerable backgrounds for espionage.

Maariv, an Israeli newspaper, revealed a detailed three-stage plan for the Gaza Strip, post-conflict, which is being considered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a preliminary proposal. This plan, devised by a group of businessmen, some of whom are closely associated with Netanyahu, aims for a comprehensive approach to the region’s future, on Wednesday. Initially, it proposes establishing an Israeli military administration in Gaza for humanitarian aid and governance. Simultaneously, it aims to form an international Arab coalition, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, the UAE, and Bahrain, to back a new Palestinian Authority, independent from Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas. This authority would eventually take over Gaza’s governance, with Israel maintaining security oversight similar to the West Bank. The final phase, contingent on the new authority’s success and comprehensive West Bank reforms, could lead to Israel recognizing a demilitarized Palestinian state within two to four years, potentially including additional territories without displacing settlements.

Conversely, Hamas announced it was reviewing a different three-phase proposal in Cairo which emerged from negotiations in Paris.  The first phase of this proposal includes a ceasefire and the release of specific hostages, alongside the resumption of essential humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza. The second phase plans for the release of female Israeli soldiers and further increases in aid and restoration of utilities. The final phase involves the exchange of deceased Israeli soldiers’ bodies for freed Palestinian prisoners. This structured proposal aims at gradually de-escalating the conflict while addressing immediate humanitarian concerns and setting the stage for a more lasting resolution​​. 

Achieving peace in the Gaza Strip requires a balanced approach that addresses immediate and urgent needs while laying the groundwork for a lasting political settlement. The analysis of both the Maariv and Hamas proposals reveals contrasting approaches to resolving the Gaza Strip conflict, each with its merits and limitations that reflect differing priorities and potential outcomes. The Maariv proposal’s comprehensive strategy, involving international and regional support for a new Palestinian Authority and a pathway to statehood, demonstrates a long-term vision for peace but risks perpetuating tensions through an initial military administration and the contentious issue of security oversight. On the other hand, the Hamas proposal emphasizes immediate humanitarian relief and phased de-escalation, offering a pragmatic approach to reducing hostilities and addressing urgent human concerns, yet it falls short by not providing a durable political solution or detailing the involvement of external actors to ensure its success and sustainability.

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