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US envoy discusses ‘potential’ of Israel-Saudi offer with Netanyahu

A Palestinian family relocates with their belongings in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip on May 19, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant Hamas group.
A Palestinian family relocates with their belongings in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip on May 19, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant Hamas group.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Sunday to discuss a more targeted Israeli military operation against Hamas in Gaza that would lower risks of civilian collateral damage.

The U.S. envoy briefed Netanyahu and his discussions with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, according to a U.S. statement. The U.S. plan would have Saudi Arabia recognize Israel and help the Palestinian Authority govern Gaza in exchange for a path to eventual statehood for the enclave.

Netanyahu's office in a statement said they focused on Israel's military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, humanitarian aid and hostages held in Gaza.

"Mr. Sullivan reaffirmed the need for Israel to connect its military operations to a political strategy that can ensure the lasting defeat of Hamas, the release of all the hostages and a better future for Gaza," the statement added.

No details were immediately released.

Netanyahu opposes the idea of an independent Palestine as an existential threat to Israel's national security.

He maintains that Israel will keep an open-ended security control over Gaza and will only work with local Palestinians unaffiliated with Hamas or the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu has vowed not to let up the fight against Hamas until the Islamist group is defeated and all remaining hostages are brought home.

However, his cabinet is facing an internal rift on a postwar Gaza governance plan.

Benny Gantz, one of the ministers of his War Cabinet, threatened to quit the governing coalition Saturday, unless Netanyahu approves a postwar "action plan" by June 8.

Gantz said this must include steps to defeat Hamas, to bring home the hostages and take steps toward the formation of an "American, European, Arab and Palestinian administration that will manage civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip."

Netanyahu called Gantz's comments as "washed-up words" and said they would lead to "a defeat for Israel, the abandoning of most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and the establishment of a Palestinian state," which Netanyahu opposes.

Fighting across Gaza

Fierce fighting is raging across the Gaza Strip, as Israel attempts to weed out re-emerging Hamas cells.

Twenty-seven people, mostly women and children, were killed by an Israeli airstrike in central Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp Sunday.

A separate strike nearby killed five people, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service.

In Deir al-Balah, another central Gaza city, a strike killed Zahed al-Houli, a senior officer in the Hamas-run police, and another man, according to records at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, which received the bodies from the area.

Israeli forces are ramping up their campaign in the southern border city of Rafah, which Israel considers the last bastion of Hamas forces.

Rafah is also a hub of displaced refugees from across the strip. About 1.4 million Palestinian civilians were sheltering there, before the operation began two weeks ago.

Since then, an estimated 800,000 people have fled the city with nowhere safe to go, the head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said Saturday.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed in a battle in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, the military said Sunday.

A third soldier who had been severely wounded in northern Gaza on May 15 died on Sunday, the military said.

Humanitarian crisis

Battles near the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings in Gaza's south have also "effectively blocked" the humanitarian aid routes there, Martin Griffiths, the U.N.'s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said Sunday.

"So, aid getting in through land routes to the south and for Rafah, and the people dislodged by Rafah is almost nil," Griffiths said, calling the humanitarian crisis near “apocalyptic.”

He said, if aid does not reach the people who need it, “that famine, which we have talked about for so long, and which is looming, will not be looming anymore. It will be a present."

Israel's war on Gaza was triggered by the October Hamas terror attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and led to the capture of about 250 hostages, according to Israeli officials.

Israel’s subsequent counteroffensive in Gaza has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, which includes civilians and combatants in its count, but says most of the dead are women and children.

Israel says it has killed more than 14,000 militants and around 16,000 civilians.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.

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