Middle East Crisis: Israeli Forces Push Deeper Into Rafah

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The families of several Israeli female soldiers taken hostage during the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7 have released video of their abduction in an attempt to pressure the Israeli government to revive stalled cease-fire talks that could pave the way for the captives’ release.

Family members first saw the footage a few weeks ago via the Israeli military, which formally handed them a copy on Tuesday night, according to the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which represents families of hostages held captive in Gaza.

“I’m asking you, please show this clip every day, open your broadcasts with it,” Eli Albag, whose daughter Liri Albag can be seen in the video, said in a television interview with Israel’s Channel 12. “Until somebody wakes up, the nation wakes up, and realizes that they’ve been abandoned there for 229 days.”

On Thursday, the day after the video was made public, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that Israel’s war cabinet had ordered its negotiators to “continue talks to bring home the hostages” held in Gaza. But hopes for immediate progress appeared remote in the shadow of Israel’s ongoing military operation in Rafah, in southern Gaza, from which over 800,000 Palestinians have fled, according to the United Nations.

Some Israeli politicians immediately seized on the video on Wednesday to try to rebuff the decision by Ireland, Norway, and Spain to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state. Israel Katz, the foreign minister, said he would screen the footage during a “severe reprimand” of the countries’ ambassadors.

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A still image from a video released by the Israeli military showing Israeli soldiers, all young women, during their abduction amid the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7.Credit...The Hostages Families Forum, via Reuters

In the three-minute edited collection of videos, which were verified by The New York Times, Palestinian fighters, some wearing Hamas headbands, can be seen binding the hands of five Israeli women who served as lookouts at Nahal Oz, a military base near the Gaza border. At least two of the hostages’ faces are bloodied, and they appear to be wearing pajamas. The militants repeatedly threaten the women.

One of the militants calls the women “dogs,” vowing to crush them. One of the women can be heard telling the militants that she had “a friend in Palestine,” even as another begs to know if any of them speak English.

In a statement, Hamas said that the scenes presented in the edited video “could not be confirmed.” The group also claimed that a translation provided by the Israeli authorities was incorrect and included phrases “that were not said by any of the fighters who appeared in the video.”

Talks to secure the release of the more than 125 hostages still being held in Gaza have been at a standstill since Israel began its assault on the southern city of Rafah in early May. Israeli forces operating in northern Gaza retrieved the bodies of four Israelis abducted on Oct. 7, heightening fears for the remaining captives.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum identified the Israeli hostage soldiers in the video as Naama Levy, Agam Berger, Liri Albag, Karina Ariev and Daniela Gilboa, all aged 19 or 20. The footage was recorded by body cameras worn by the Hamas militants who abducted them, the organization said.

Families of hostages met with senior Israeli leaders on Wednesday, including Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, and Benny Gantz, a member of the country’s war cabinet, in an attempt to lobby for an immediate agreement with Hamas.

“The video is a damning testament to the nation’s failure to bring home the hostages, who have been forsaken for 229 days,” the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said in a statement.

In a statement on social media, Mr. Gantz said he was appalled by the footage of the five hostages’ abduction, and vowed to make “difficult decisions” if necessary in order to bring home the remaining captives in Gaza.

Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel’s parliamentary opposition, said the video was “a reminder to the world of the evil we are fighting in Gaza.”

Dmitriy Khavin, Alexander Cardia and Riley Mellen contributed reporting.

Aaron Boxerman reporting from Jerusalem

Key Developments

  • The death toll rose to 12 in an Israeli military raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Authority’s Health Ministry said on Thursday. Dozens of others have been injured since the Israeli military entered the city on Tuesday morning, the ministry said, in one of the deadliest in a series of raids in the West Bank that Israeli officials have described as counterterrorism operations. Israeli forces withdrew from Jenin early Thursday, according to residents.

  • Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin repeated U.S. criticism of a request by the International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders for war crimes. Speaking on Wednesday with Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, Mr. Austin called the prosecutor’s move “outrageous,” according to a Pentagon statement. The prosecutor, Karim Khan, said this week that he was applying for warrants for Mr. Gallant and Mr. Netanyahu, as well as for three leaders of Hamas, in connection with the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel and Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

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“We and our partners need to do everything possible to increase humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza, to curtail violence in the West Bank and to stabilize the West Bank’s economy,” Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said on Thursday.Credit...Maansi Srivastava/The New York Times

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen warned Israel on Thursday against cutting off ties between Palestinian and Israeli banks, arguing that such a move would further destabilize the economy of the West Bank at a time when Palestinians are already facing dire economic conditions.

Ms. Yellen’s comments came in the wake of Israel’s decision on Wednesday to withhold tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority in retaliation for three European countries unilaterally agreeing to recognize a Palestinian state. Ms. Yellen and other top economic officials from the Group of 7 nations are expected to discuss the matter and the humanitarian situation in Gaza during their summit in Stresa, Italy, which begins on Thursday.

“I’m particularly concerned by Israel’s threats to take action that would lead to Palestinian banks being cut off from their Israeli correspondent banks,” Ms. Yellen said during remarks ahead of a news conference.

Ms. Yellen added that the banking channels were critical for processing transactions that allow $8 billion a year of imports of food, fuel and electricity from Israel and $2 billion of Palestinian exports.

The war in Gaza is one of several geopolitical crises that are weighing on the global economy. The economic policymakers are also planning to discuss Russia’s war in Ukraine and continue deliberations over how to use more than $300 billion of frozen Russian central bank assets to provide Ukraine with additional aid. Officials from the Group of 7 will also be discussing ways to tighten sanctions on Russia and how to prevent China from providing the country with military support.

Ms. Yellen said on Thursday that the plight of the Palestinians would be a topic of discussion with her counterparts and that a move to cut Palestinians off from the international financial system could fuel a “humanitarian crisis.”

The Palestinian economy uses shekels, Israel’s national currency, and relies on Israeli banks to process transactions. Israel’s finance ministry usually signs an annual waiver protecting its banks from any legal exposure related to transferring funds to terrorist groups when Israeli banks facilitate transactions with Palestinians.

After granting a three-month extension of the waiver earlier this year, Israel’s hard-line finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, indicated that he might not extend it again when it expires in July.

United Nations officials said last month that cutting off the Palestinian banks from Israel would essentially sever it from the global banking system and cripple the Palestinian economy.

On Wednesday, Mr. Smotrich also said that he informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would no longer send tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank in close cooperation with Israel. Israeli and Palestinian leaders had earlier this year agreed to a deal stipulating that Norway would hold some of the revenues in trust until Israel agreed they could be sent to the Palestinians. On Wednesday, Mr. Smotrich called for the government to immediately annul that agreement.

The Biden administration also criticized the decision to restrict Palestinians from gaining access to the tax revenues.

“Israel’s withholding of revenues that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority also threatens economic stability in the West Bank,” Ms. Yellen said. “We and our partners need to do everything possible to increase humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza, to curtail violence in the West Bank, and to stabilize the West Bank’s economy.”

The Treasury secretary declined to say what repercussions Israel could face if it followed through with the threat of cutting off Palestinian banks, suggesting that the United States and other Group of 7 nations would rely on diplomatic pressure.

“I would expect other countries to express concern about the impact such a decision on the West Bank economy,” Ms. Yellen said. “I think this would have a very adverse effect also on Israel.”

In February, Ms. Yellen wrote a letter to Mr. Netanyahu urging him increase commercial engagement with the West Bank, contending that doing so was important for the economic welfare of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Alan Rappeport Alan Rappeport reported from Stresa, Italy, where he is covering the G7 finance ministers meeting.

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