Israel pounds Gaza as top official gives Netanyahu ultimatum for postwar plan

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Israeli forces launched heavy strikes across Gaza on Sunday, hours after a top Israeli official gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an ultimatum to figure out a postwar vision for the embattled enclave.

Israeli War Cabinet member Benny Gantz demanded that Netanyahu agree to a plan − one that would specify who would rule Gaza after the war with Hamas ends − by June 8 or Gantz and his centrist party would bolt the wartime coalition.

The demands by Gantz, a retired general and former defense minister, show the latest fracture among Israel's top leaders. On Wednesday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also pushed Netanyahu for clarity on postwar Gaza. Netanyahu, Gantz and Gallant are the three voting members of the War Cabinet, assembled as a demonstration of unity after the brutal Hamas attacks of Oct. 7.

Gantz released a six-point plan that would allow Israel to retain security control of Gaza but bring a temporary U.S.-European-Arab-Palestinian system of civil administration over the territory. It would also require equitable national service for all Israelis, including ultra-Orthodox Jews, who are now exempted from the military draft.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan was scheduled to meet with Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders on Sunday. Sullivan was expected to push the longtime U.S. ally to pursue Hamas in a more targeted way, particularly in the southern city of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands have been fleeing after more than 1 million displaced Palestinians sought shelter there from fighting elsewhere in Gaza.

Despite global outcries about the Rafah invasion, Netanyahu has vowed to press on to crush militants responsible for the Oct. 7 border attacks that left more than 1,200 Israelis dead and triggered the war.

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Developments:

∎ At least 28 Palestinians were killed Sunday, most in a strike on a house in Nuseirat in central Gaza, health officials and Hamas said. In a statement, the Gaza Civil Emergency Service said rescue teams have also recovered the bodies of 150 Palestinians killed by the Israeli army in recent days, and that 300 houses had been struck by Israeli aerial and ground fire.

∎ At least 35,456 Palestinians have been killed and 79,476 have been wounded in Israel’s military offensive since Oct. 7, the Gaza Health Ministry said in a statement Sunday.

∎ A new poll puts Netanyahu’s job approval rating at 32%, the Times of Israel reported. The job approval rating for Gantz, Netanyahu’s main opponent, was only slightly higher at 35% in the Channel 12 poll. Gallant garnered a 43% rating.

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Smoke rises after an Israeli bombardment in Gaza on May 17, 2024.
Smoke rises after an Israeli bombardment in Gaza on May 17, 2024.

Saudi crown prince, US national security adviser meet on Gaza, bilateral deal

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Sullivan met to discuss an almost "finalized" draft of a deal between Washington and Riyadh, the Saudi state news agency said Sunday.

The discussions target U.S. security guarantees and a civilian nuclear cooperation pact, Reuters reported. They come amid reports that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are nearing a broader agreement that could allow Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel for the first time and possibly carve a pathway to Palestinian statehood, which Netanyahu has resisted.

Battles intensify in northern Gaza

Fighting raged anew in northern Gaza as Israeli forces advanced into the narrow alleyways of Jabalia on Sunday amid fears that Hamas was re-establishing a foothold in areas cleared earlier in the war.

The Israeli military said it was “operating to identify armed terrorist cells and … conducting dozens of strikes to assist the forces operating on the ground” in the Jabalia area, the largest of Gaza's eight historic refugee camps.

“The situation is very difficult” in Jabalia, Abdel-Kareem Radwan, 48, told the Associated Press. He said Israeli fighter jets “strike anything that moves.”

Contributing: Reuters

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Israel war updates: Netanyahu given ultimatum for postwar Gaza plan