Fiji dismissal threatens ruling coalition. Modi oversees consecration of temple on mosque site. Trump closer to nomination. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Ceasefire negotiations continue in Israel–Hamas war

Smoke billows over Khan Yunis in southern Gaza during the Israeli bombardment this week.
Smoke billows over Khan Yunis in southern Gaza during the Israeli bombardment this week.
Credit: AFP

Great power rivalry

Gaza: Israel and Hamas were reportedly close to reaching a deal on a temporary ceasefire this week, as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsened amid intensive fighting in Khan Yunis, a densely populated city where Hamas leaders are believed to be hiding.

Following talks brokered by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, Israel and Hamas were reportedly considering a deal to hold a month-long ceasefire, in which Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners would be released.

The negotiations came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced growing pressure to reach a deal from the families and supporters of hostages, who have held rallies at his home and this week burst into a meeting of the Knesset.

Israel’s advance into Khan Yunis involved intensive bombing and included a raid of a hospital and the besieging of another. Israel accused Hamas of operating from the two hospitals – a claim Hamas denied. Tens of thousands of people have fled Khan Yunis since the Israeli assault there began last week. Israel believes Khan Yunis is now the main headquarters for Hamas and its leaders and Israeli hostages are hidden in tunnels beneath the city.

The heavy fighting and bombardments added to the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres this week said the situation in Gaza was “appalling” and the enclave was “enduring destruction at a scale and speed without parallel in recent history”.

Israel launched a war to topple Hamas in Gaza after an attack on October 7 in which militants from Hamas, an Iran-backed group, entered Israel and killed almost 1200 people and took more than 240 hostages. As of Wednesday, Israel’s attacks in Gaza had killed 25,474 people, including more than 9600 children, according to local officials. Israel said it had killed more than 9000 militants. More than 220 Israeli soldiers have died during the ground invasion, including 24 who died on Monday, the deadliest day for Israeli troops since entering Gaza.

The UN and the European Union this week called for a pathway towards a two-state solution, criticising Netanyahu’s recent statement that he opposed the creation of a Palestinian state.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, proposed an international conference on a two-state solution, saying a deal may need to be imposed by the international community because the actors “are too opposed to be able to reach an agreement autonomously”.

Meanwhile, the US and Britain carried out fresh strikes against the Houthis in Yemen after the Iran-backed group launched further attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea. On Tuesday, the US said it had also conducted strikes in Iraq against Iran-backed militant groups there. The groups were believed to be involved in multiple rocket and drone attacks against US troops in Iraq and Syria.

As fighting spread across the Middle East, the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, said in a statement Washington would take further action if needed but did “not seek to escalate conflict in the region”.

The neighbourhood

Fiji: Sitiveni Rabuka, Fiji’s prime minister, is struggling to keep his ruling coalition together after sacking his education minister, Aseri Radrodro, whose party has threatened to join the opposition.

The dismissal of Radrodro is believed to be related to his moves to terminate the governing council of Fiji National University and his failure to comply with Rabuka’s instructions to reinstate the council.

But Radrodro told reporters he was “baffled” by his sacking and was not informed of the reason, saying he learnt about it in a post on social media by the prime minister. He apologised for any misunderstanding and urged Rabuka to reinstate him.

Radrodro’s Social Democratic Liberal Party, which has three MPs, has threatened to leave the three-party coalition, which could lose its razor-thin majority in the 55-member parliament.

Amid the political crisis, a blog site, Fijileaks, reported allegations that Radrodro had an affair with the minister for women, Lynda Tabuya, during a trip they took as part of a parliamentary delegation to Australia. Screenshots allegedly of the pair’s phone messages showed Tabuya saying she had “plenty weed” and was “gonna get drunk and high”. Tabuya said the messages were fake and has reported them to police.

Democracy in retreat

India: On Monday, Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, oversaw the consecration of a Hindu temple on the site of a ruined mosque, marking a victory in a decades-long effort that came to symbolise the country’s rising tide of religious nationalism.

Describing the temple as the fulfilment of “the dream that many have cherished for years”, Modi attended a ceremony at the site after conducting an 11-day tour of Hindu temples, during which the 73-year-old lived on coconut water and slept only on blankets on the floor.

The new shrine in Ayodhya, a town in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, is being built on a site believed by devout Hindus to be where the god Ram was born. In 1992, a 16th-century mosque on the site was demolished by Hindu nationalists, prompting violence in which more than 2000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed across the country. No one was convicted for the destruction of the mosque or the ensuing riots.

The episode fuelled a rise in Hindu nationalism that helped to bring about the ascendancy of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which has governed since 2014.

The lavish ceremony in Ayodhya this week was attended by business leaders, Bollywood stars and cricketers, and public servants were given a half-day off. Modi told the gathering the event marked the beginning of a new era for India and would be talked about “for thousands of years”.

“God has made me an instrument to represent all the people of India,” Modi said in a statement on social media. “This is a huge responsibility.”

The secular Congress party, which previously dominated Indian politics, boycotted the inauguration, saying the event was a political stunt.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author of a biography of Modi, told the Financial Times: “Essentially this is all about crowning one person today and that person is not the deity but the king.”

Modi is standing for a third term at elections in April and May.

Spotlight: Trump on track for nomination

United States: Donald Trump edged closer to clinching the Republican presidential nomination this week, defeating his only serious rival, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, in the New Hampshire primary.

With 97 per cent of ballots counted, Trump had received 54 per cent of the vote, compared with 43 per cent for Haley.

Despite losing in a state where she had campaigned heavily, Haley vowed to press on, saying she and her backers were “the last ones standing”. She attacked Trump, who is 77 years old and faces multiple criminal charges, as risky and chaotic.

“This race is far from over,” she told supporters.

“With Donald Trump you have one bout of chaos after another. This court case, that controversy, this tweet, that senior moment.”

Haley became Trump’s main rival after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis this week dropped out of the race, saying he did not “have a clear path to victory”. DeSantis, who endorsed Trump, had focused his campaign on the opening race in Iowa last week but finished a distant second behind Trump.

Some analysts believe Haley has better prospects than Trump in a contest against US President Joe Biden, because Democrats – many of whom loathe Trump but feel lukewarm towards Biden – are more likely to vote in the election if Trump is standing.

But polls indicate Haley has little chance of defeating Trump in the Republican race. The next major primary is on February 24 in South Carolina, where Haley served as governor from 2011 to 2017. Trump is on track for a landslide win there, with polls showing that – before DeSantis dropped out – the former president was likely to win at least 52 per cent of the vote and Haley was expected to win 22 per cent.

No Republican candidate has ever won in Iowa and New Hampshire and failed to secure the nomination.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 27, 2024 as "Ceasef ire negotiations continue in Israel–Hamas war".

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