The New York Times 2024-07-11 20:09:59

Escalation Between Israel and Hezbollah Hangs Over Gaza Cease-Fire Talks

The negotiations are being watched closely by Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon.

When intelligence chiefs of the United States, Israel and Egypt went to Qatar on Wednesday for talks aimed at brokering a cease-fire in Gaza, there was more on the line than Israel’s war against Hamas. The talks are being watched closely by Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon, and the question of whether a second full-blown war will erupt in Israel’s north may also hang in the balance.

Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, made it clear on Wednesday that “the only way” to stop the cross-border hostilities between his group and Israel was to negotiate an end to the fighting in Gaza. Hezbollah and Hamas are both allied with Iran in what they call “the axis of resistance,” a coalition that opposes Israel’s right to exist.

“Hamas is negotiating on its own behalf and on behalf of the entire resistance axis, and what Hamas accepts, we accept,” Mr. Nasrallah said in a televised speech.

Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon, who are backed by Iran, have traded fire since the war in Gaza began after Hamas led an attack on Israel on Oct. 7. About 150,000 people in northern Israel and southern Lebanon have fled their homes because of the fighting, and world leaders are worried that continued hostilities could quickly spiral into a full-fledged war that further destabilizes the already fraught region.

Mr. Nasrallah, in his speech, referred to these concerns, noting that “many delegations” from the international community have visited Lebanon to discuss defusing tensions. “We repeated the same words: If you want to stop the northern front, stop the fire in Gaza,” he said.

But the cease-fire talks have been halting, and the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah — cross-border attacks with drones, rockets and airstrikes — has escalated in recent weeks, heightening fears that a wider war may be imminent.

On Tuesday, two Israelis — Noa and Nir Baranes, a married couple from Kibbutz Ortal in the northern Golan Heights — were killed in a Hezbollah strike on their car that the Lebanese armed group said had targeted an Israeli military base in response to an earlier Israeli “assassination” of a Hezbollah figure in Syria. The civilian deaths put additional pressure on the Israeli government to address tensions with Hezbollah, even as the Israeli military keeps returning to parts of Gaza it had previously considered pacified to suppress a resurgence of Hamas fighters.

The Israeli military said on Wednesday that its air force struck a “military site” in southern Lebanon after soldiers identified several Hezbollah operatives entering it, and that it also had targeted other Hezbollah sites nearby. Israeli government officials and military leaders have in recent weeks toured northern Israel and met with troops stationed there who were preparing for a potential escalation.

Israel has invaded Lebanon three times in the last 50 years, most recently in 2006, when the sides fought a monthlong war that killed more than 1,000 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and more than 150 in Israel, mostly soldiers.

Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, has said that a diplomatic solution to the conflict with Hezbollah is preferable. But he has also emphasized, including in talks with his U.S. counterpart, Lloyd J. Austin III, in Washington late last month, that Israel is “determined to establish security” in the north and change “the reality on the ground.”

Israeli security experts are concerned that a war against Hezbollah will be more intense — and more likely to draw in other players — than the fight against Hamas.

A new report from Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies warned that “Hezbollah has the military capabilities to conduct an exceedingly protracted war, probably lasting many months, and cause severe damage to Israel” and that it could turn into “a multi-front war against Iran and its other proxies.”

The report, led by the retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Meir Elran, a senior researcher at the institute, said “there is a growing sense of futility regarding the future of the northern border.” It also noted that “public discourse has been heavily focused on the possibility of a comprehensive war with Hezbollah.”

Comprehensive war is precisely what France, the United States and others have been hoping to prevent with diplomatic visits to the region. Whether efforts at de-escalating the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah can succeed may well depend on how the cease-fire talks in Qatar progress.

On Wednesday, the C.I.A. director, Mossad chief and Egyptian intelligence head met in Qatar with the Qatari prime minister in an effort to find a peace formula both Israel and Hamas can agree on. (Egypt and Qatar have been relaying proposals to Hamas leaders.)

So far, however, Israel and Hamas disagree over a fundamental question: whether the cease-fire will be permanent or just a temporary pause to allow for an exchange of hostages taken from Israel for Palestinian prisoners.

The talks have been “progressing positively,” said Majed al-Ansari, the spokesman for Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, before the latest gathering. But, he added, “We are by no means out of the woods.”

Doctors Without Borders closes its last facility in north Gaza, and other news.

  • Doctors Without Borders temporarily closed its last health facility in north Gaza after the Israeli military issued an evacuation order for parts of Gaza City and the area came under heavy fire, the organization said on Wednesday evening. It said the evacuation orders and destruction of health facilities had left people in northern Gaza with very few options for health care. The Israeli military on Wednesday urged Palestinians across Gaza City to evacuate to the south, saying the city would “remain a dangerous combat zone.”

  • The top White House official for Middle East affairs met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Israel on Wednesday. In a statement, Mr. Netanyahu’s office said he and the official, Brett McGurk, held discussions about negotiations on a cease-fire and hostage release deal, during which the Israeli leader said he was committed to the process “as long as Israel’s red lines are preserved.” Mr. Netanyahu has long insisted that the war in Gaza must continue until Israel has destroyed Hamas’s military and governing abilities. Mr. Gallant said that in his meeting with Mr. McGurk he had stressed the need for security guarantees along the border between Gaza and Egypt that would cut off Hamas’s ability to rearm itself through smuggling.

  • Houthi forces in Yemen appear to have resumed attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea after pausing strikes for more than a week, according to United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, a British military agency. On Wednesday, the agency said it had received a report of an explosion close to a vessel about 45 miles south of the coast of Yemen, the second attack in two days. Before that, the last reported attack in the region had been on June 27. The Houthis, an Iran-backed militia, have been attacking ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November to support Hamas in its war against Israel. The group did not immediately claim responsibility for the recent incidents. The U.S. Central Command said on social media on Wednesday that its forces had destroyed two Houthi aerial drones and a drone boat that “presented an imminent threat to U.S., coalition forces, and merchant vessels in the region.”

‘We Want Our Real Lives Back’: For Gazans, Egypt Is Safe, but It’s Not Home

Reporting from Cairo

In Gaza, they owned olive trees, flower gardens, factories, stores and homes they had built and tended for decades. They had memories bound up in family photos, in knickknacks, in embroidered shawls. They had cars to drive, classes to attend, the beach minutes away.

Now, in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, where tens of thousands of Palestinians have fled, they find themselves in rented apartments overlooking concrete. They have few job prospects, dwindling savings and no schools for the children — a new world they know is safe, but hardly feels like a future.

Without legal status in Egypt or clarity about when Gaza might again offer a semblance of normal life, most are stuck: unable to build lives, try their luck in a third country or plan on returning home.

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What NATO’s Warning to China About Russia Means

China’s tight bond with Russia is facing renewed condemnation from Washington and its allies after NATO issued its strongest accusation yet that Chinese technology is sustaining Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

Leaders from the NATO alliance, meeting in Washington, declared that Beijing “cannot enable the largest war in Europe in recent history” without facing repercussions.

Despite a widening web of Western bans and restrictions, Chinese semiconductors, machine tools and other parts have become vital to Russia’s arms industries, helping Moscow to keep up its grinding war, say American and European officials, intelligence agencies and security experts.

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France Is Busing Homeless Immigrants Out of Paris Before the Olympics

The French government has put thousands of homeless immigrants on buses and sent them out of Paris ahead of the Olympics. The immigrants said they were promised housing elsewhere, only to end up living on unfamiliar streets far from home or flagged for deportation.

President Emmanuel Macron of France has promised that the Olympic Games will showcase the country’s grandeur. But the Olympic Village was built in one of Paris’s poorest suburbs, where thousands of people live in street encampments, shelters or abandoned buildings.

Around the city over the past year, the police and courts have evicted roughly 5,000 people, most of them single men, according to Christophe Noël du Payrat, a senior government official in Paris. City officials encourage them to board buses to cities like Lyon or Marseille.

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