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Member of Israel's War Cabinet says he'll quit June 8 unless there's new war plan

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DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip -

Benny Gantz, a centrist member of Israel’s three-member War Cabinet, threatened on Saturday to resign from the government if it doesn't adopt a new plan in three weeks' time for the war in Gaza, a move that would leave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu more reliant on his far-right allies.

His announcement escalates a divide within Israel’s leadership more than seven months into a war in which it has yet to accomplish its stated goals of dismantling Hamas and returning scores of hostages abducted in the Oct. 7 attack.

Gantz spelled out a six-point plan that includes the return of scores of hostages, ending Hamas' rule, demilitarizing the Gaza strip and establishing an international administration of civilian affairs. It also supports efforts to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia.

He says if it is not adopted by June 8 he will quit the government.

“If you choose the path of fanatics and lead the entire nation to the abyss — we will be forced to quit the government,” he said.

Gantz, a popular politician and longtime political rival of Netanyahu, joined his coalition and the War Cabinet in the early days of the war.

The departure of the former military chief of staff and defence minister would leave Netanyahu even more beholden to far-right allies who have taken a hard line on negotiations over a cease-fire and hostage release, and who believe Israel should occupy Gaza and rebuild Jewish settlements there.

Gantz spoke days after Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, the third member of the War Cabinet, openly said he has repeatedly pleaded with the Cabinet to decide on a postwar vision for Gaza that would see the creation of a new Palestinian civilian leadership.

Netanyahu is under growing pressure on multiple fronts. Hard-liners in his government want the military offensive on Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah to press ahead with the goal of crushing Hamas. Top ally the U.S. and others have warned against the offensive on a city where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million had sheltered — hundreds of thousands have now fled — and they have threatened to scale back support over Gaza’s humanitarian crisis.

This image provided by the U.S. Army shows trucks loaded with humanitarian aid from the United Arab Emirates and the United States Agency for International Development cross the Trident Pier before arriving on the beach on the Gaza Strip Friday, May 17, 2024. (Staff Sgt. Malcolm Cohens-Ashley/U.S. Army via AP)

The U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, will be in Saudi Arabia and Israel this weekend to discuss the war and is scheduled on Sunday to meet with Netanyahu, who has declared that Israel would “stand alone” if needed.

Many Israelis, anguished over the hostages and accusing Netanyahu of putting political interests ahead of all else, want a deal to stop the fighting and get them freed. There was fresh frustration Friday when the military said its troops in Gaza found the bodies of three hostages killed by Hamas in the Oct. 7 attack. The discovery of the body of a fourth hostage was announced Saturday.

The latest talks in pursuit of a cease-fire, mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, have brought little. A vision beyond the war is also uncertain.

The war began after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage. Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza, local health officials say, while hundreds more have been killed in the occupied West Bank.

Jeffery reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Sam Mednick in Tel Aviv contributed to this report 

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