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As Gaza War Enters New Phase, Israel Faces Pressure Over Civilian Deaths

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In the past six months, Israeli forces were transferred to reinforce those in the West Bank. But after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, they were replaced by smaller, less-experienced reserve units, since Israel needed its frontline forces in Gaza.

Military analysts said the Israeli army had enough troops to wage the ground offensive while carrying out regular operations in the West Bank. But it would be overstretched if it were to carry out a parallel offensive in the West Bank, said Yagil Levy, an expert on the Israeli military at the Open University of Israel.

“The army should have calmed down the West Bank,” Professor Levy said. “But they’ve lost much of their control there.”

Since Oct. 7, violence by settlers in the West Bank has displaced more than 800 Palestinians. The United Nations said 120 Palestinians had been killed in clashes with settlers or with the Israeli army, with most dying in clashes with soldiers.

Critics say Israel has exacerbated tensions in the West Bank by halting the transfer of tax and customs revenues to the Palestinian Authority, which controls the territory, after the Hamas attacks. Israel’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, refused to hand over the payments, which Israel collects on behalf of the authority, arguing that the money would go to support Hamas.

Israel’s military intelligence and Shin Bet, its internal security agency, said that the Palestinian Authority was valuable in the fight against Hamas terrorism and that these funds were needed to pay the authority’s workers. Without Palestinian cooperation in counterterrorism, some military officials said, the West Bank could face a third intifada, or uprising, after the deadly Palestinian uprisings of 1987 and 2000.

Mr. Smotrich’s move has opened a bitter split in the cabinet. Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, demanded that the freeze be lifted, saying in a statement that “the funds should be transferred immediately so that these may be used by the operational mechanism of the Palestinian Authority and by the sectors of the Palestinian Authority that are dealing with the prevention of terrorism.”

Analysts said the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, had been depleted and discredited by their schism with Hamas, which critics said Mr. Netanyahu had exploited. As a result, they said, the authority now has limited influence over armed militias that roam the West Bank and have been galvanized by the fighting in Gaza.

“Even if President Abbas wants to stabilize the situation, I’m not sure the militias agree,” Professor Levy said. “They are tempted to do something to show their sympathy with their brothers in Gaza.”

Mark Landler reported from Jerusalem, and Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv.

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