Gaza war: Fierce fighting between Israel, Hamas continues as efforts for truce gains pace
International efforts towards a new pause in the devastating Gaza war gathered pace Wednesday, as Israel bombarded the Palestinian territory during fierce fighting with Hamas militants.
Hamas was reviewing a proposal for a six-week truce in its war with Israel, a source told AFP, after mediators gathered in Paris.
While talks take place, the population of Gaza is starving to death due to constraints imposed on humanitarian aid, the World Health Organization’s emergencies director Michael Ryan said, in the latest such warning.
As Qatari- and Egyptian-led mediation efforts intensified, a Hamas official said the group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh “will be in Cairo today or tomorrow (Wednesday or Thursday)” to discuss the truce proposal.
Plan involves 6-week halt in Gaza war
A separate Hamas source told AFP the three-stage plan would start with an initial six-week halt to the fighting that would see more aid deliveries into the besieged Gaza Strip.
Only “women, children and sick men over 60” held by Gaza militants would be freed during that stage in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israel, the source said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the talks.
There would also be “negotiations around the withdrawal of Israeli forces”, with possible additional phases involving more hostage-prisoner exchanges, said the source, adding the territory’s rebuilding was also among issues addressed by the deal.
The war was triggered by Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Militants also seized about 250 hostages. Israel says 132 of them remain in Gaza including at least 29 people believed to have been killed.
Following the deadliest attack in Israel’s history, its military launched a withering air, land and sea offensive that has killed at least 26,900 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
Tens of billions of dollars, and seven decades, would be required to rebuild Gaza which “currently is uninhabitable” as half its structures are damaged or destroyed, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out pulling forces from Gaza.
He has also opposed releasing “thousands” of Palestinian prisoners as part of any deal, though his office on Sunday called the talks “constructive”.
His failure to bring home the captives has led to mounting protests and calls for early elections.
Ron Dermer, an Israeli minister close to Netanyahu, is expected to meet Wednesday with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Washington, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due for another Mideast trip in the “coming days”, a US official said.
The United States was among several top donor countries which suspended funding to the UN’s aid agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, after Israel accused several UNRWA staff members — out of the agency’s 33,000 — of involvement in the October 7 attack.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a UN committee he had “met with donors to listen to their concerns and to outline the steps we are taking”.
He called UNRWA, which offers basic food supplies, medical service and shelters, “the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza”.
UNRWA spokeswoman Tamara Alrifai told AFP the agency supports “an independent investigation” into the Israeli claims that led to the funding crisis.
Netanyahu told a meeting of UN ambassadors in Jerusalem that UNRWA had been “totally infiltrated” by Hamas. He said other agencies should replace it.
Aid and health workers have for days reported heavy fighting around two hospitals in Khan Yunis, the southern Gaza city at the centre of current combat.
“Things are getting worse at Nasser medical complex and Al-Amal hospital”, both of which have run out of food, said Ashraf al-Qudra, Gaza’s health ministry spokesman.
The situation, he said, “foreshadows the death of a number of wounded”.
Troops were shooting “at anyone who tries to leave or enter” Al-Amal Hospital, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said.
Leo Cans, the head of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) for the Palestinian territories, demanded an immediate ceasefire.
Just returned from Gaza, he said the “indiscriminate” bombing is daily killing around 150 women and children, according to a conservative estimate.
“This is a figure that should horrify and alarm the entire international community,” Cans told AFP.
Israel accuses Hamas of operating from tunnels under hospitals in Gaza and of using medical facilities as command centres, a charge denied by the Islamist group, designated a “terrorist” organisation by the European Union and the United States.
Israel’s military announced the death of one more soldier, bringing to 224 the number killed in Gaza since ground operations began in late October.
The military said troops had killed dozens of militants and captured 10 during a raid on a school where they were allegedly hiding. Israeli forces also raided what the army described as a weapons and explosives factory in Khan Yunis used by Islamic Jihad.
The armed group, fighting alongside Hamas, on Wednesday said it was battling Israeli forces in the southern city as well as near Gaza City in the north.
Bodies shrouded in white cloth were laid on a hospital floor in Gaza City and carried on donkey carts ahead of burial.
Violence involving Iran-backed allies of Hamas across the Middle East has surged during the Israel-Hamas war, also drawing in US forces.
The White House blamed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a loose alliance of pro-Iran armed groups, for a weekend drone attack that killed three American soldiers at a base in Jordan.
US forces also said they destroyed a missile, belonging to Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels, that posed an “imminent threat” to US aircraft.
The Huthis have repeatedly attacked what they deem to be Israeli-linked ships in the Red Sea.
As a result, the International Monetary Fund said container shipping through the vital trade route has dropped this year by about one-third.
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