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Dubai: Israel’s mounting war effort against the Hamas militant group will be steered by an emergency unity government and war cabinet stacked with former defence and security experts.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday inked an agreement with rival Benny Gantz – leader of the opposition National Unity Party – as Israel summons 360,000 troops for the nation’s most significant military operation since the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
Israeli tanks moving near the Israeli Gaza border.Credit: AP
Five members will make up a separate “war-management” cabinet, which will have powers to pass only legislation that is connected to the war in Gaza.
No bills or government business unrelated to the war will be dealt with for as long as it continues, ultimately shelving the controversial judicial overhaul laws that have divided the nation this year and sparked mass protests on the streets of Tel Aviv.
It is a defining step for the nation left reeling after Hamas militants exploited a major intelligence failure with a surprise attack unseen in its level of co-ordination; storming villages, killing more than 1200 people and abducting an estimated 150 people as hostages.
Israel’s war cabinet will consist of Netanyahu, Gantz, current Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and two other officials, including a former defence chief of staff, serving as “observer” members. A seat is expected to be reserved for opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid.
IDF spokesman Johnathan Conricus said the addition of Gantz – a former defence minister – to the new cabinet sent an important message of “morale and cohesion” for Israeli troops fighting to defeat Hamas.
“The political unity reflects what I’ve seen on the streets in Israel … people are now coming together, setting silly political differences aside and focusing on the tremendous task that we have ahead,” he told CNN on Wednesday night.
The cabinet forms as Israel prepares for a major ground offensive in Gaza that would push casualty numbers high on both sides of its war with Hamas. The nation’s defence minister has declared he has released all restraints on the Israeli military.
A total blockade is now in place over Gaza, where a humanitarian crisis is unfolding after the sole power plant ran out of fuel and shut down late on Wednesday (AEDT).
Israelis take cover from the incoming rocket fire from the Gaza Strip in Ashkelon, southern Israel.Credit: AP
Officials in the city said electricity cuts would substantially limit their ability to provide basic services to the almost two million people who live in the densely packed strip. They say all hospital beds and medical supplies across Gaza are exhausted or depleting.
The Palestinian Health Agency said its death toll had risen to 1055 and 5184 had been injured since Saturday. The United Nations said 11 of its staff had died in Gaza.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he deeply regretted that some of his colleagues had “paid the ultimate price,” while urging the need for rapid access.
“Crucial life-saving supplies including full food and water must be allowed into Gaza. We need rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access.”
Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City.Credit: AP
Egyptian aid convoys carrying fuel, construction materials and food were unable to enter the Gaza Strip through Rafah on Wednesday, The Associated Press reported. It followed the closure of the border crossing following an earlier Israeli airstrike.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to fly to Israel on a Middle East mission to prevent the war from spreading into a wider conflict, to discuss further support and address the release of all hostages held in Gaza, which include women, children and elderly.
Fears of escalation continue to grow, after Israeli jets struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon on Wednesday in response to guided missiles launched by the militia towards northern Israel.
Israelis were rushed to bomb shelters across northern Israel on Wednesday evening, local time, after alarms rang out following reports of suspected airspace infiltration from Lebanon. It was later declared a false alarm.
Smoke rises after Israeli shelling in the village of Duhaira near the border of Israel, south Lebanon.Credit: AP
President Joe Biden this week said the US had enhanced its military force in the region to strengthen deterrence, including moving a carrier strike group closer to Israel and bolstering its fighter aircraft presence.
“Any country, any organisation, anyone thinking of taking advantage of this situation, I have one word: Don’t. Don’t,” he said on Tuesday.
The number of US citizens confirmed killed in the conflict has risen to at least 22, while Reuters news agency reported several missing French children were believed to be among the hostages.
Sydney woman Galit Carbone is the first known Australian casualty from the attacks.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addressed a service at a synagogue in Melbourne on Wednesday, while thousands gathered in Sydney for a moving vigil at Dover Heights.
with AP, Reuters
More coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
- Surprise attack: Hamas terrorists fired up to 5000 rockets from Gaza into Israel on October 7, triggering a declaration of war. Read our guide to the militant group and why it’s at war with Israel.
- The Iron Dome explained: How did Hamas breach Israel’s sophisticated anti-ballistic missile system? And why didn’t Israel’s intelligence services see these attacks coming?
- Tragedy in Israel: A 66-year-old Sydney woman has been killed and is the first known Australian casualty. Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong says the woman’s family in Israel and Australia is receiving consular assistance.
- What’s next: International editor Peter Hartcher joins the Please Explain podcast to analyse the escalating conflict in the Gaza Strip – and explain why a much bigger conflict is afoot.
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