GAZA CITY: The health ministry in Gaza reported on Monday that the death toll from Israeli bombardments since October 7 has reached at least 20,674 Palestinians in the besieged enclave. Additionally, 54,536 people have been wounded since the start of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.
Israeli airstrikes continued on Christmas Day, exacerbating the already dire conditions for civilians in Gaza. Pope Francis, in his traditional Christmas message at the Vatican, decried the “desperate humanitarian situation” in Gaza and called for an immediate ceasefire and the release of hostages.
The Israeli military continued its ground, air, and sea operations on Christmas Day, targeting several localities in the Gaza Strip.
Christmas festivities in Bethlehem, the sacred birthplace of Jesus Christ in the occupied West Bank, were virtually canceled due to the ongoing conflict. The usually vibrant streets of the city saw only a handful of worshippers and tourists.
The Gaza health ministry reported that an Israeli airstrike on Christmas Eve killed at least 70 people at the Al-Maghazi refugee camp. In separate attacks, ten members of a family were killed in the Jabalia camp, and 18 people lost their lives in an overnight strike on Khan Yunis.
Amid Israeli attacks, Gazans are facing severe shortages of water, food, fuel, and medicine, with 80% of the population displaced, according to the UN. Aid trucks, though limited, have provided some relief.
The World Health Organization led missions to nearly non-functional hospitals in northern Gaza, describing a growing sense of desperation among the population. Sean Casey, a WHO emergency coordinator, emphasized the risk of famine, stating, “Everyone we speak to is hungry.”
Egypt Proposes Plan to End Israel-Hamas Conflict
Meanwhile, Egypt has presented an ambitious initial proposal that outlines a multi-faceted plan. Developed in collaboration with Qatar, the proposal includes a ceasefire, a phased release of hostages, and the creation of a Palestinian government of experts tasked with administering both Gaza and the occupied West Bank.
While the proposal has been shared with key stakeholders, including Israel, Hamas, the United States, and European governments, it is still in its preliminary stages. Notably, the proposal falls short of Israel’s expressed goal of outright crushing Hamas and may not align with Israel’s insistence on maintaining military control over Gaza for an extended period post-conflict.
Israel’s War Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is expected to convene later today to discuss the hostage situation, among other topics. The Israeli official, speaking anonymously, did not confirm whether the Egyptian proposal would be on the agenda.
The proposal emerges against the backdrop of three intense days of violence leading up to Christmas, marked by Israeli airstrikes causing dozens of Palestinian casualties across Gaza. The toll of the conflict continues to mount, with over 20,424 Palestinians killed and almost the entire population of Gaza displaced.
The proposed plan outlines an initial ceasefire lasting up to two weeks, during which Hamas would release 40 to 50 hostages. In return, Israel would release 120-150 Palestinians from its prisons. Negotiations would continue, addressing the extension of the ceasefire and hostage releases.
Furthermore, Egypt and Qatar would collaborate with all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to establish a government of experts. This transitional government would govern Gaza and the occupied West Bank while factions resolve internal disputes and formulate a roadmap for presidential and parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, negotiations would continue between Israel and Hamas for a comprehensive “all-for-all” deal, encompassing the release of all remaining hostages, withdrawal of the Israeli military from Gaza, and the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody.