Israeli Spy Chief Joins Ceasefire Talks as Southern Gaza Bombed

Sat Feb 24 2024
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PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Israeli air strikes targeted homes in southern Gaza, witnesses said on Friday, adding to what aid groups describe as an increasingly hopeless humanitarian situation despite efforts towards new truce talks.

An Israeli delegation led by David Barnea, head of the Mossad intelligence agency, has arrived in Paris in an effort to “unblock” truce discussions in the war with Hamas militants.

His trip follows what the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said was the death of more than 100 people over the previous day.

Israeli bombardment destroyed one house and left a gaping hole in the earth east of Rafah, on the border with Egypt, where about 1.4 million Gazans have converged in a futile search to escape the fighting.

“We were sleeping in our house when we heard the sound of a missile,” said Abdul Hamid Abu el-Enein. “We rushed to the site and found people martyred and injured” in the strike which “completely erased” the two-storey home.

Gaza, Israel, Palestinians, Conflict,

Witnesses reported several other houses targeted during the night, and an AFP reporter described heavy strikes in the city of Khan Yunis to the north, as well as in Rafah itself.

Israel has threatened to send troops into the packed southern city of Rafah, drawing international criticism.

More than four months of fighting and bombardment have flattened much of Gaza and pushed its population of around 2.4 million to the brink of famine as disease spreads, according to the United Nations.

“We have reached the point of extreme poverty and hunger,” 62-year-old Zarifa Hamad, a displaced woman living in a camp in northern Gaza, told AFP. “Children are dying of hunger.”

Paris talks

The war started after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack. Hamas militants also took hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 29,514 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by Gaza’s health ministry.

The toll has put pressure on US President Joe Biden to rein in its ally Israel — which it provides with billions of dollars in military aid.

White House envoy Brett McGurk held talks this week with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, after meeting with other mediators in Cairo who had met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh earlier this week.

A Hamas source said the new plan proposes a six-week pause in the conflict and the release of between 200 and 300 Palestinian prisoners, in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages still held by Hamas.

Barnea and his US counterpart from the CIA helped broker a week-long truce in November that saw the release of 80 Israeli hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Washington’s National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told journalists that so far the discussions were “going well”, while Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz spoke of “the first signs that indicate the possibility of progress”.

‘Die hungry’

At the Najjar hospital in Rafah on Friday, mourners grieved over two dead children whose faces poked through white shrouds.

Mahmud Jarghun said he had no hope in the negotiations because “the intention is to annihilate the Palestinian people”.

Fierce gun battles broke out in the neighbouring Zeitun district, where tanks are deployed, according to witnesses.

The army said helicopters were in action to support “targeted raids” in the area.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has unveiled a plan for post-war Gaza that envisages the territory’s civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.

Even after the war, the Israeli army would have “indefinite freedom” to operate throughout Gaza to prevent any resurgence of terror activity, according to the proposals.

The Israeli plan was swiftly rejected by the Palestinian Authority and drew criticism from the United States.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Washington had been “consistently clear with our Israeli counterparts” about what was needed in post-war Gaza.

“The Palestinian people should have a voice and a vote… through a revitalised Palestinian Authority,” he said.

“We don’t believe in a reduction of the size of Gaza… we don’t want to see any forcible displacement of Palestinians outside Gaza and, of course, we don’t want to see Gaza dominated or ruled or governed over by Hamas.”

Asked about the plan during a visit to Argentina, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would “reserve judgement” until seeing all the details, but said Washington was against any “reoccupation” of Gaza after the war.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan dismissed Netanyahu’s plan as unworkable.

“When it comes to the day after in the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu is presenting ideas which he knows fully well will never succeed,” Hamdan told reporters in Beirut.

A UN report said Friday that “gross human rights violations” had been committed by all parties in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and demanded accountability and justice to foster peace.

The war has also heightened tensions in the occupied West Bank, where the Israeli army said a Palestinian militant it killed in a drone strike late on Thursday was “en route to carry out another shooting attack”.

The strike came hours after three gunmen opened fire at queuing cars on a West Bank highway, killing one man.

Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced that in response to the attack the government would submit plans for the construction of some 3,300 additional housing units in the nearby settlement of Maale Adumim.

The US National Security Council spokesman said he was“disappointed with the announcement”, adding: “This administration maintains… our firm opposition to settlement expansion.” —AFP

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