Israeli army vehicles return from the southern Gaza strip, in southern Israel, February 26, 2024.

Israeli Minister Warns Of A New Flare-Up During Ramadan

Wednesday, 02/28/2024

Israel has raised concerns about Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran seeking to "unite the fronts" and "inflame the region" during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in two weeks.

“Hamas’s main goal is to take Ramadan, with an emphasis on the Temple Mount and Jerusalem, and turn it into the second phase of their plan that began on October 7,” Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant said Tuesday. “This is the main goal of Hamas, it is being amplified by Iran and Hezbollah.”

Ramadan is one of the more sacred times for Muslims, when the community comes together in a month of fasting and prayer. It has often been a time of heightened tensions between Israel and Palestinians who seek access to holy sites come but encounter Israeli restrictions and tightened security measures.

Pro-Palestinian rallies are held in some Muslim countries every year on the last Friday of Ramadan, called Quds Day (after the Arabic name of Jerusalem, al-Quds). Iran has been the main force behind promoting the Quds Day as a symbol of continued opposition to Israel.

Smoke rises from a site believed to have been hit by an Israeli strike, in southern Lebanon, in this screen grab taken from a video, February 27, 2024.

Gallant was speaking to Israeli commanders responsible for operations in the West Bank, where Palestinians fuming at Israel’s onslaught on Gaza would likely face unprecedented measures put in place by the most far right government in Israeli history.

Israel’s minister for national security Itamar Ben Gvir is seeking to prevent Palestinians from praying at the Temple Mount during Ramadan. He is even considering a ban on Arab Israeli citizens below the age of 70, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Gallant seems to be opposed to such measures on the grounds that it could inflame Palestinian feelings. He warns against “Irresponsible statements from people who are supposed to be responsible,” most likely addressing Ben Gvir. “We must not give Hamas what it has not been able to achieve since the beginning of the war and converge the combat fronts.”

More than a hundred days since Hamas rampaged Israeli border areas, the Middle East is still grappling with the repercussions. Thousands of Palestinians have been killed or maimed, although there is no independent exact toll on civilian deaths.

Global trade has been hit by ongoing Houthi attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea. And Hezbollah continues to exchange fire with Israeli troops across the border almost on a daily basis. The only good news is that Iran 's proxies in Iraq and Syria have gone quiet after several rounds of US airstrikes in response to the killing of three American soldiers last month.

On Tuesday, Hezbollah announced that it had launched several rockets at an Israeli aerial surveillance base. One day earlier, the Israeli military had struck targets at the Bekaa Valley, more than a 100 km from the Israel-Lebanon border, where most of the attacks have been concentrated.

It was a clear escalation in a conflict where both sides have shown some restraint despite regular attacks and retaliations.

The United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, UNIFIL, urged both sides to avoid further escalation, according to Reuters, warning that it had observed a "concerning shift" in the exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is widely believed to be the most powerful non-state actor in the region. It is funded and armed by Iran, reportedly capable of hitting any point in Israel with its vast arsenal of more than a hundred thousand missiles. So far, it has not entered the war, fearing harsh response from Israel perhaps, and is likely to stop its attacks if Israel and Hamas agree to the much-anticipated ceasefire.

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