Heroes or villains? Netanyahu honors hostage rescue in which hundreds of civilians died

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday visited the elite Yamam counterterrorism unit credited with freeing four hostages last week, lauding them as heroes who made their nation proud.

Netanyahu told the officers − who appeared at the event in green fatigues, masks and sunglasses − that the rescue showed Israel will “overcome our enemies" in Gaza and Lebanon. Most Israelis have poured accolades on the globally controversial rescue mission, which also featured a deadly aerial assault on the Nuseirat refugee camp. The Gaza Health Ministry said more than 270 Palestinians perished, most of them civilians.

“You caused an entire nation to stand straight,” Netanyahu said, in a translation by the Times of Israel. "You showed that we are willing to do everything in order to save our hostages.”

Israel blamed Hamas for the Palestinian deaths, saying the militants had stashed the hostages in a civilian apartment in the crowded camp. But neighboring Egypt and Jordan expressed outrage, calling the mission a violation of international law. Lebanon’s foreign ministry condemned the “massacre," and Jasem Mohamed Albudaiwi, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, called the attack "a heinous and terrorist crime that targeted defenseless innocents with brutality."

'The time for haggling is over': Hamas demands peace deal guarantees

Developments:

∎ About 40 rockets were launched from Lebanon into northern Israel within an hour Thursday, the Israeli military said. "Several" were intercepted, others caused fires to break out across the region. A day earlier more than 200 rockets were fired into Israel, the most in a day since the war began.

∎ The U.S. is concerned about an escalation on the Israel-Lebanon border leading to a full-out war, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said: "We’re particularly concerned about Hezbollah strikes that are aimed at civilian areas in Israel." Almost 100,000 Israelis have been evacuated from the region for months due to the airstrikes.

Palestinian support rising for armed struggle, Hamas

Support for armed struggle to end the Israeli occupation and achieve statehood rose among Palestinians while backing for the militant group Hamas also increased slightly in the last three months, according to a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. The poll showed support for armed struggle climbed by 8 points, to 54% of those surveyed in the West Bank and Gaza. Support for Hamas rose by 6 points to 40%. The Fatah party, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, had 20% backing. More than 60% support the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority, which the Biden administration wants to govern Gaza after reforms are put in place

About two-thirds of the public support the Oct. 7 attack that started the war, primarily because 80% believe it placed the Palestinian issue at the center of global attention.

Israeli government spokesperson David Mencer, asked about the poll, said that "unfortunately it does sound as if it's correct." But he said Hamas will not run postwar Gaza.

"Once Hamas is defeated, afterward, we want Gaza to be run by Gazans," Mencer said. "But not Gazans that are intent on killing Jews."

Israel taking Palestinian taxes to pay Israeli terror victims

Calling it "historical justice," Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Thursday signed an order to transfer $35 million in taxes Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority to Israeli victims of militant attacks. Smotrich halted the transfer of funds to the authority last month, after Ireland, Norway and Spain announced formal recognition of a Palestinian state. The authority, which has some limited government authority over the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has been slashing jobs and pay of public workers.

"The Palestinian Authority encourages and favors terrorism by paying the families of terrorists, prisoners and released prisoners," Smotrich said in a social media post. Smotrich said he is using the frozen assets to pay judgments awarded as compensation to the victims of terrorism and their families.

Israel is believed to collect about $200 million a month on behalf of the authority. The West Bank is home to almost 3 million Palestinians and more than 600,000 Israeli settlers.

Last month, the White House chastised Israel, saying withholding the money could destabilize the West Bank. Last week the Israeli military warned the Israeli government that the policy of cutting off funds to the Palestinian Authority could push the financially struggling West Bank into an "intifada" − uprising. But Smotrich and other far-right ministers say the funds are being used by the authority to undercut Israel.

G7 supporting recognition of Palestinian state

Group of Seven leaders meeting in Italy this week are concerned by the uptick in fighting on the Israel-Lebanon border and endorse U.S. efforts to secure a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, according to a draft communique to be released following this week’s G7 summit. The statement, subject to approval of the seven nations, reiterates an unwavering commitment to a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians but falls short of formal recognition. The draft also calls on Israel to refrain from a full-scale offensive in Rafah, “in line with their obligations under international law.”

The G7 is made up of the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Gaza's farmland gets torn apart while its people starve

More than half of Gaza's agricultural land has been seriously degraded by the Israeli military since the war began more than eight months ago, satellite images analyzed by the United Nations show. Using images taken from May 2017 to 2024, United Nations Satellite Center (UNOSAT) found 57% of Gaza's permanent crop fields and arable lands essential for food security had shown a significant decline in density and health. The data reveals a rise in the destruction of orchards, field crops and vegetables.

"This deterioration is attributed to conflict-related activities, including razing, heavy vehicle movement, bombing and shelling," UNOSAT said Thursday.

A day earlier the World Health Organization warned of "catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions" spreading across the embattled enclave. Additionally, over 330,000 tons of waste have accumulated in or near populated areas, posing overwhelming environmental and health risks, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees says, noting that "children rummage through trash daily."

Contributing: Reuters

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: War updates: Israel honors hostage rescue that killed hundreds