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Israeli Parliament’s 2024 Budget Approval “Guarantees Continuation of War”

Meanwhile, Israeli forces killed seven Palestinians and wounded 86 others after opening fire on a group waiting for aid.

Displaced Palestinians, along with their belongings, gather in a street amid the rubble of houses destroyed by Israeli bombardment in the Hamad area west of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 14, 2024.

Casualties

  • 31,341+ killed* and at least 73,134 wounded in the Gaza Strip.
  • 423+ Palestinians killed in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.**
  • Israel revises its estimated October 7 death toll down from 1,400 to 1,147.
  • 590 Israeli soldiers killed since October 7, and at least 3,221 injured.***

*Gaza’s Ministry of Health confirmed this figure on its Telegram channel. Some rights groups put the death toll number closer to 40,000 when accounting for those presumed dead.

** The death toll in West Bank and Jerusalem is not updated regularly. According to PA’s Ministry of Health on March 6, this is the latest figure.

*** This figure is released by the Israeli military, showing the soldiers whose names “were allowed to be published.”

Key Developments

  • Israeli parliament approves 2024 budget that “guarantees continuation of war.”
  • Israeli attack on UN aid distribution center in Rafah kills at least one UNRWA staff member and wounds over 20 others.
  • Israeli army plans to displace Palestinians in Rafah towards “humanitarian islands” in the center of the Gaza Strip, according to AP News.
  • Israeli forces open fire yet again on aid seekers in Gaza City, killing at least 7 Palestinians, wounding 86, reported Wafa.
  • Human rights groups call for all Gaza land crossings to be opened for aid.
  • Israeli military confiscates body of slain 13-year-old.
  • UN: Since October 7, Israeli forces killed over 400 people sheltering in U.N. facilities in Gaza.
  • UN: Israel has attacked over 150 of the agency’s structures despite having protected status under international law since October 7, 2023.
  • Amnesty International director slams global community for “pretending” as if the crisis in Gaza is humanitarian and not engineered by Israel.
  • Human rights group demands international probe into attack on IRC and MAP facility in safe zone.
  • Politico: U.S. officials say Biden administration will get behind targeting of “high-value Hamas targets in and underneath Rafah.”

Israeli Forces Kill Seven Aid Seekers, Attack UN Distribution Center

On the fourth day of Ramadan, Palestinians in Gaza are growing ever more desperate as food shortages continue and the Israeli military targets aid seekers and distribution sites.

Israeli forces killed 7 Palestinians and wounded about 86 others after opening fire on a group of Palestinians waiting for aid to arrive at the Kuwait Roundabout in Gaza City, reported Wafa.

In recent weeks, Israeli forces have repeatedly attacked the roundabout where large groups of people gather to wait for aid trucks. On Tuesday, Israeli forces killed 11 people waiting for food aid at the roundabout.

Al Jazeera correspondent Hani Mahmoud says the Kuwait Roundabout as “known as a death trap” and that it’s becoming increasingly dangerous right now for aid seekers.

“We heard from a hungry and largely traumatized population stranded in the Gaza Strip asking what is the purpose of getting those trucks into Gaza and its northern area if they’re getting shot at,” Mahmoud reported from Gaza.

Just hours before, Israeli forces launched an attack on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) distribution center in Rafah; one staff member was killed, and twenty-two others were wounded.

“Today’s attack on one of the very few remaining UNRWA distribution centers in the Gaza Strip comes as food supplies are running out, hunger is widespread and, in some areas, turning into famine,” said UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini in a statement on X.

“Every day, we share the coordinates of all our facilities across the Gaza Strip with parties to the conflict. The Israeli army received the coordinates, including this facility yesterday.”

The killing of an UNRWA aid worker at a distribution center is “devastating” for crucial humanitarian relief deliveries in Gaza, Martin Griffiths, the U.N.’s top emergency aid official, says.

“How are we to maintain aid operations when our teams and supplies are constantly under threat? They must be protected,” Martin Griffiths posted on X.

“This war has to stop.”

Shortly after the UNRWA announcement, Israel claimed its air strike on a U.N. food distribution center in southern Gaza killed a Hamas commander.

In a statement, Hamas said Abu Hasna was a member of its civil police force, not its military wing, and condemned his killing as a “cowardly assassination” meant to disrupt aid distribution, reported Al Jazeera.

Since October 7, Israeli forces have killed more than 400 people seeking shelter in U.N. facilities in Gaza. The military also hit over 150 of the agency’s structures despite having protected status under international law.

“The United Nations, its personnel, premises and assets must be protected at all times … I am calling once again for an independent inquiry into these violations and the need for accountability,” Lazzarini added.

Human Rights Group Demands Probe Into Attack on Safe Zone

The Israeli military also conducted a near-fatal attack on a residential compound housing our Emergency Medical Team (EMT) and members of MAP’s local team and their family members on January 18.

The human rights organizations have since provided new details on the attack, which took place in al-Mawasi, an alleged “safe zone” in Gaza.

The January attack wounded several team members despite coordinates being shared with the Israeli military, which offered six different explanations that “have not provided clarity” as to why it happened, a statement said.

“The variety of responses highlights a continued lack of transparency regarding what occurred. It is clear from this experience the Israeli military and government are either unable or unwilling to properly investigate this serious incident,” the groups said.

The statement called on Israel’s allies, including the U.S. and U.K., to launch “a full, independent and timebound investigation into the January 18 incident – and all reported attacks on deconflicted facilities and personnel”.

“As current suppliers of arms and munitions to Israel, governments such as the U.K. and the U.S. have a particular responsibility to hold Israel accountable for this and other attacks on aid workers and civilians.”

Rights Groups Slam Governments for “Hiding Behind Airdrops” of Aid Into Gaza

Meanwhile, Israel has continued to heavily restrict humanitarian aid from entering the besieged enclave. Instead of allowing aid by land, the government continues to explore alternate, less effective methods such as by sea and air.

Twenty-five human rights and humanitarian organizations operating on the ground in Gaza have issued a joint statement saying the only way to meet the unprecedented humanitarian needs in the enclave was to ensure unhindered humanitarian access through all land crossings.

“States cannot hide behind airdrops and efforts to open a maritime corridor to create the illusion that they are doing enough to support the needs in Gaza. Their primary responsibility is to prevent atrocity crimes from unfolding and apply effective political pressure to end the relentless bombardment and the restrictions which prevent the safe delivery of humanitarian aid,” they said.

The group, which includes Amnesty International, Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF), and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), said that while a convoy of five trucks has the capacity to carry about 100 tonnes of lifesaving assistance. In contrast, recent airdrops delivered only a few tonnes of aid each.

“After enduring five months of continuous bombardments and dehumanizing conditions, children, women and men in Gaza have the right to more than meager charity dropped from the sky,” the statement said.

“Families are starving and do not have the time for offshore and ashore infrastructure to be constructed: saving their lives requires immediately allowing the humanitarian trucks full of food and medicine whose entry in Gaza is currently being withheld.”

Similarly, the Gaza government says that sending an aid ship from Cyprus to the besieged territory was an inadequate response to the needs of its 2.4 million people.

“According to what was announced, the ship’s cargo does not exceed that of one or two trucks, and it will take days to arrive,” Salama Marouf, spokesman for Hamas at the government press office, said in a statement quoted by France 24.

Marouf added that some logistical questions about the operation were unanswered and raised concerns about Israeli inspections.

“It is still unknown where it will dock and how it will reach the shores of Gaza,” he continued, “moreover, it will be subject to inspection by the occupying army.”

Agnes Callamard, head of Amnesty International, says efforts to deliver aid to war-torn Gaza by constructing a seaport or through airdrops symbolizes the failure of world leaders to pressure Israel to open its land crossings fully.

“We’re not holding the stick that will allow for those violations to stop,” she said in Madrid, according to The New Arab.

Resorting to “airdrops, the construction of a port is a sign of powerlessness and weakness on the part of the international community,” Callamard said.

Janti Soeripto, president of the charity Save the Children U.S., told Al Jazeera it is “very unpredictable” which aid trucks can make it into Gaza and which ones are rejected.

“I saw a wooden toy box with games for children being rejected because the box was made of wood, and it had to be packed in carton boxes,” said Soeripto, who was at the Rafah crossing in January.

“Hygiene kits with soap, blankets and sanitary pads for women got rejected because there was a nail clipper in it. The list goes on.”

Moreover, Soeripto said even if trucks make it into Gaza, distribution inside was “problematic” amid the ongoing fighting in the coastal enclave.

“There’s so much rubble and destruction around that it is physically even hard to actually get the last mile in order to deliver our supplies when they make it in,” she added.

“While the international community is busy pretending Gaza is a humanitarian crisis, Israel continues to violate international law in total impunity,” Amnesty’s Callamard added in a post on X.

“Humanitarian assistance airdrop and a Gaza aid port won’t address these violations. And they wont address engineered starvation,” she continued.

Israel Approves Budget to Continue War

Over five months into Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza, the government has no intentions of stopping it anytime soon. Instead, Israel plans to pour more money into sustaining their attacks.

Israel’s parliament has approved an amended 2024 state budget, adding tens of billions of extra spending on defense and “compensation to households and businesses hurt by Hamas’s attack on October 7.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party welcomed the vote, noting it managed to pass “a budget that guarantees the continuation of the war until complete victory and benefits the citizens of Israel and the state’s economy,” reported Israeli media.

According to a statement from Israel’s legislature, the Knesset, the modified budget increases the spending limit by 70.4 billion shekels ($19.4bn), or more than 14 percent.

Of that amount, 55 billion shekels ($15.1bn) could be allocated to the military, and 15.5 billion ($4.1bn) could go “to finance civilian needs,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, on Thursday morning, at least 40 relatives of Israeli captives still held in Gaza blockaded the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv calling for an end to the war.

The protesters chanted “deal now,” referring to a prisoner swap with Hamas, which Israel has outright rejected, and “we want them alive, not in coffins” while holding photos of 19 women still believed to be held in Gaza.

Invasion of Rafah

While the U.S. has publicly told Israel to avoid a large-scale invasion of Rafah, the Biden administration has reportedly, in private, told their Israeli counterparts the type of operation they would support.

According to a report published by Politico, U.S. officials have said that the administration of President Biden will get behind the targeting of “high-value Hamas targets in and underneath Rafah.”

“In private conversations, top administration officials have signaled to Israel that they could support a plan more akin to counterterrorism operations than all-out war, four U.S. officials said,” the report says.

“That, the administration officials argue, would minimize civilian casualties, decimate Hamas’ ranks and avoid scenes that have led to souring public opinion on Israel’s campaign and Biden’s handling of the war.”

However, Netanyahu has promised that Israel “will finish the job in Rafah while enabling the civilian population to get out of harm’s way.”

Israeli army spokesperson Daniel Hagari says that there are plans to push a significant amount of the more than one million displaced Palestinians in Rafah toward “humanitarian islands” in the center of the Gaza Strip in advance of its planned offensive on the city.

“We need to make sure that 1.4 million people or at least a significant amount of the 1.4 million will move. Where? To humanitarian islands that we will create with the international community,” Hagari told reporters at a briefing, as cited by A.P. News.

Hagari also said that the “islands” would provide temporary housing, food, water, and other necessities to evacuated Palestinians.

Without specifying when the operation would occur, he added that Israel wants the timing to be right operationally and to be coordinated with neighboring Egypt, which has said it does not wish for an influx of displaced Palestinians crossing its border.

Israel Withholds the Body of 13-Year-old Boy

The Israeli military has confiscated the body of slain 13-year-old Rami al-Halhuli, who was shot in the chest on Tuesday evening in occupied East Jerusalem. Israeli forces killed the boy while he was shooting fireworks up in the air during Ramadan.

The boy’s father released a statement to Palestinian media saying the Israelis have promised to give his body back on Friday at midnight, but with a considerable condition, reported Al Jazeera.

The first is that only four members of the family can go and collect the boy’s body. Then, he has to be buried inside the Shu’fat refugee camp, which, in relation to Israel’s separation wall, is on the opposite side of his family’s burial site.

Israel added that only 15 family members and friends are allowed to attend the funeral. Usually, hundreds, perhaps thousands of people attend the funerals of martyrs, especially when such a young child is killed.

Withholding the remains of slain Palestinians is a common coercive tactic and collective punishment policy used by the Israeli military

Palestinian rights groups say about 245 bodies of dead Palestinians are being held by Israelis at the moment, as cited by Al Jazeera, which noted that over 65 of the bodies were killed after October 7.

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