Israel: The wartime government was shaken by a dispute between Netanyahu and his biggest rival

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — A senior Israeli cabinet minister headed to Washington on Sunday for talks with U.S. officials, drawing a rebuke from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to an Israeli official, in a sign of widening cracks in Israel's wartime government. After nearly five months of war with Hamas.

The trip by Benny Gantz, the centrist political rival who joined Netanyahu's hard-line government in the early days of the war following an October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel, comes amid deep disagreements between Netanyahu and President Joe Biden over how to ease the crisis. The suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and the creation of a post-war vision for the Strip.

It was the United States Pushed to airdrop Aid arrived in Gaza on Saturday after dozens arrived Palestinians rush to get food from trucks They were killed last week. Airdrops circumvent what was Expensive aid delivery systemWhich was hampered by Israeli restrictions and logistical issues inside Gaza, as well as fighting within the small enclave. Aid officials say airdrops are much less effective than aid sent by truck.

US priorities in the region have been increasingly hampered by Netanyahu's hard-line government, where ultra-nationalists dominate. Gantz's more moderate party sometimes acts as a counterweight to Netanyahu's far-right allies.

An official from Netanyahu's Likud party said that Gantz's visit came without permission from the Israeli leader. The official said Netanyahu had a “difficult conversation” with Gantz about the trip and told him the country had “only one prime minister.”

An Israeli official said that Gantz informed Netanyahu of his intention to travel to the United States and coordinate messages with him. The official said that the visit aims to strengthen relations with Washington, enhance support for the Israeli ground campaign, and push for the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

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Gantz is scheduled to meet with US Vice President Kamala Harris and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, according to his National Unity Party.

The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the dispute with the media.

Netanyahu His popularity has declined Since the outbreak of the war, according to most opinion polls, many Israelis hold him responsible for the cross-border raid by Hamas that left 1,200 people dead, most of them civilians, and about 250 people, including women, children and the elderly, kidnapped and taken away. To Gaza, according to the Israeli authorities.

The subsequent fighting killed at least 30,410 Palestinians, about two-thirds of whom were women and children, according to estimates. Ministry of Health in GazaWhich does not differentiate between civilians and combatants. About 80% of the population of 2.3 million people have fled their homes, and United Nations agencies say that hundreds of thousands have fled their homes. On the verge of starvation.

Critics say Netanyahu's decision-making process is tainted by political considerations, something Netanyahu denies. Criticisms are focused in particular on post-war plans in Gaza. Netanyahu issued a proposal that would maintain Israel's open security control over the area with local Palestinians managing civil affairs.

The United States wants to see progress in establishing a Palestinian state, and envisions a renewed Palestinian leadership running Gaza with an eye toward eventual statehood.

This vision is opposed by Netanyahu and the hard-liners in his government. Another Cabinet official He from Gantz's party questioned the way the war was handled and the country's strategy for freeing the hostages.

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Netanyahu's government, the most conservative and religious government ever in Israel, was also shaken by a court-ordered deadline for a new draft law expanding military conscription for ultra-Orthodox Jews, many of whom are exempt from pursuing religious studies. The issue has been raised as hundreds of Israeli soldiers have been killed since October 7, and the army is looking to fill its ranks as the war continues.

Gantz, who polls show would have enough support to become prime minister if the vote was held today, is seen as a political moderate. But he remained ambiguous about his view on a Palestinian state.

Visit the United States if met with progress On the hostage frontIt could boost Gantz's support further. Israel has Basically supported framework A senior US official said on Saturday that Israel has agreed to a ceasefire agreement and hostage release in Gaza, and that it is now up to Hamas to approve it. He spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules established by the White House for briefing reporters.

Israelis, deeply shocked by the Hamas attack, broadly supported the war effort as an act of self-defense, even as global opposition to the fighting grew.

But a growing number are expressing their dismay at Netanyahu. Israeli media reported that about 10,000 people demonstrated on Saturday evening to demand early elections. Such protests have increased in recent weeks, but they remain much smaller than the demonstrations that broke out last year against the regime The government's plan to reform the judiciary.

Reuven Hazan, a political science professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that if political differences grow and Gantz withdraws from the government, the doors will open to broader protests by a public that was already dissatisfied with the government when Hamas struck.

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“There is a lot of anger,” he said, referring to grievances that had been building up long before October 7. “The moment you have that anger and there is a coalition that is disconnected from the people, there will be fireworks.”

Netanyahu's government will not collapse if Gantz exits, but it may lose legitimacy in the eyes of much of the public.

Talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire in Gaza resumed on Sunday in Egypt. International mediators hope to reach an agreement that will stop the fighting and release some of the remaining hostages before the start of the holy month of Ramadan on March 10.

Meanwhile, fighting raged in Gaza, where Israeli raids late Saturday killed more than 30 people, including women and children, according to local health officials.

At least 14 people were killed in an air strike on a house in the city of Rafah, located in the far south of the country, on the Egyptian border, according to Dr. Marwan Al-Hams, director of the hospital to which the bodies were transferred. He added that the dead, including six children and four women, were all from the same family. Relatives said nine other people were missing under the rubble.

Israeli airstrikes also hit two homes in Jabalia refugee camp, a dense residential area in the northern Gaza Strip, killing 17 people, according to Civil Defense.

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Al-Shurafa reported from Rafah, Gaza Strip, and Magdy reported from Cairo.

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Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

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