The head of Israel’s military intelligence resigns as Gaza is in turmoil

Smoke rises over Rafah, where Israel has repeatedly vowed to send ground troops despite international concerns for civilians – Copyright AFP MOHAMMED ABED

Jay Deshmukh

The head of Israel’s military intelligence has resigned after taking responsibility for the failures that led to the October 7 Hamas attack, the army said on Monday, as Israel increased shelling overnight in the war-ravaged Gaza.

General Aharon Haliva is the first top Israeli official to resign over his failure to prevent the Hamas attack, which sparked the war in Gaza and put Israel’s government and military under intense control.

“The intelligence department under my command failed to fulfill the task entrusted to us,” Haliva said in his resignation letter. “I have carried that black day with me ever since.”

Israel, meanwhile, has lashed out at reports that its key ally, the United States, is considering imposing sanctions on the army’s ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda Battalion over alleged pre-war human rights abuses in the West Bank.

“At a time when our soldiers are fighting the monsters of terror, the intention to impose a sanction on a unit in the IDF (army) is the height of absurdity and a moral low point,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote. X.

Netanyahu said late on Sunday that the Israeli army would increase military pressure to deliver “additional and painful blows” to Hamas in the coming days, without elaborating.

The prime minister has repeatedly said Israel will launch a ground attack on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, despite international concerns about the majority of the territory’s population who have taken refuge there.

– Passover marks 200 days –

The promise of more military pressure came amid growing global opposition to Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which has left large swaths of territory in ruins and caused a serious humanitarian crisis, including fears of famine.

Gaza was hit by heavy shelling overnight, with attacks reported in several areas in the center and south of the besieged territory, an AFP correspondent said on Monday.

Doctors at Al-Aqsa Hospital in the Gaza city of Deir El Balah told AFP that six people were injured in an Israeli airstrike in central Gaza, while three others were injured in a separate attack on the Al-Bureij refugee camp.

Israeli allies including Washington have warned against sending troops to Rafah, fearing massive civilian casualties in the only major Gaza city yet to be overrun in the offensive.

It is estimated that more than 1.5 million of the 2.4 million Palestinians in Gaza have sought refuge in Rafah. However, thousands are believed to have moved north since Israel withdrew most troops from Gaza earlier this month.

The Israeli military has said the city is Hamas’s last major stronghold and that some of the hostages captured on October 7 were being held there.

This week, during the Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins Monday evening, “the hostages will be held captive for 200 days,” Israeli military spokesman Admiral Daniel Hagari said.

“The chief of staff has approved the next steps for the war,” he added, without giving details.

At least 16 people, mostly children, were killed in Israeli attacks on two houses in Rafah this weekend, according to Gaza’s civil protection agency.

Gaza crossing and border authorities, meanwhile, said 34 Palestinian prisoners had been released from Israeli prisons since Monday morning. Authority spokesman Hisham Adwan said some detainees showed “signs of torture.”

In the main southern town of Khan Yunis, Gaza’s civil defense organization said on Sunday that its teams had discovered at least 50 bodies buried in the courtyard of a hospital previously raided by Israel.

Spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP that the agency was “waiting until all graves were exhumed to provide a final number” of bodies excavated from the courtyard of the Nasser Medical Complex.

The Israeli military said it was checking the reports.

– Violence in the West Bank –

In the occupied West Bank, where violence has increased since the start of the Gaza war, a funeral procession was held on Sunday for 13 Palestinians killed in an Israeli attack on the Nur Shams refugee camp.

The Israeli army said it had killed 10 militants in a three-day “counter-terrorism” attack on Nur Shams, but the camp’s residents gave a different story.

Niaz Zandeq, 40, said his son Jehad was shot dead by an Israeli soldier on his 15th birthday.

Neighbors said troops told Jehad to leave his uncle’s house.

“As soon as he came out, they opened fire and hit him straight in the head,” Zandeq said through tears. “He was unarmed.”

The Israeli army has not responded to residents’ allegations.

The military also said a suspect has been arrested over the death of Israeli teenager Benjamin Achimeir, whose disappearance earlier this month sparked violent raids in the West Bank.

Two civilians were slightly injured in a car ram attack in Jerusalem on Monday. Israeli police said they had arrested two suspects who fled the scene on foot.

Hamas’ attack on October 7, which sparked the war in Gaza, resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,151 people, mostly women and children, according to Israel’s Health Ministry.

Israel estimates that 129 prisoners remain in Gaza, including 34 who the army says are dead.

Some relatives of the hostages have urged families celebrating Passover to leave an empty chair at their seder table with a photo of a hostage.

“How can we celebrate such a holiday when… people are still without freedom and still waiting for liberation?” asked Mai Albini, whose grandfather Chaim Peri was taken hostage on October 7.