Qatar says Hamas is 'positive' on truce deal, Houthis threaten to escalate if attacks on Gaza do not stop - as it happened

AFP , Tuesday 6 Feb 2024

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Egypt on Tuesday as part of his latest Middle East crisis tour, seeking a new ceasefire and "an enduring end" to the Israeli war on Gaza.

Antony Blinken
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Egypt s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on February 6, 2024. The US top diplomat s stop in Egypt is part of a Middle East crisis tour seeking a new truce and an enduring end to the Israel-Hamas war. AFP

Heavy strikes and fighting in Gaza killed at least 107 people in the past 24 hours, said the health ministry in the territory that has been under almost four months of bombardment.

Blinken -- on his fifth regional tour since the bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out -- met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, a day after he held talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh.

The US top envoy then left for Qatar and was later to head to Israel, hoping to shore up support for a truce deal that was hashed out in Paris in January but has not yet been signed off on by either Hamas or Israel.

23:00 Senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad told Reuters on Tuesday that the group intends for the release of the largest number possible of Palestinians who are being held in Israeli prisons.

Hamad's comments come after Hamas earlier announced that they had delivered their response to a framework agreement devised by Egypt and Qatar that aims to bring a complete ceasefire to Gaza.

"Netanyahu is trying to make everyone believe that he has or will achieve victory to preserve his coalition government," Hamad told Reuters, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He added that it took Hamas some time to issue a response because "many of (the agreement's) issues were unclear and ambiguous".

22:00 The Israeli prime minister's office said Tuesday the country's Mossad spy agency is examining the response of Hamas to a proposed deal to halt fighting in Gaza.

"Hamas's reply has been conveyed by the Qatari mediator to the Mossad. Its details are being thoroughly evaluated by the officials involved in the negotiations." said a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office.

21:00 Israel's chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on Tuesday that 31 of the remaining captives held in Gaza had been pronounced dead.

"We have informed 31 families that their captured loved ones are no longer among the living and that we have pronounced them dead," he said during a regular media briefing.

Israel has said 136 captives are still being held in Gaza.

19:45 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would bring a response from Hamas on a hostage deal to Israel on Wednesday and called it "essential" to move ahead.

"There's still a lot of work to be done. But we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and indeed essential, and we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it," Blinken told reporters in Doha on Tuesday after being informed of the reply by Qatar.

19:30  Hamas said Tuesday it handed its response on a truce deal aimed at halting the war with Israel to key mediators.

"A short while ago, the Hamas movement delivered its response to the framework agreement to the brothers in Qatar and Egypt," a statement said, referring to "a comprehensive and full ceasefire".

19:00 France's top diplomat warned officials during a visit to Beirut on Tuesday that Israel is threatening to wage war on its northern neighbour to return citizens displaced by cross-border fire, Lebanon's foreign minister said.

18:00  Palestinian militant group Hamas on Tuesday said it "strongly condemns" Argentinian President Javier Milei after he announced plans to move his country's embassy to Jerusalem.

Hamas said it viewed the move "an infringement of the rights of our Palestinian people to their land, and a violation of the rules of international law, considering Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian land".

16:40 The leader of Yemen's Houthis, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, said on Tuesday that the group "will further escalate" if the Israeli attack on Gaza does not stop.

Iran-aligned Houthis have been targeting commercial vessels with drones and missiles in the Red Sea since mid-November, in what they describe as acts of solidarity with Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

16:00 Around 8,000 displaced people have been evacuated from a besieged hospital in Gaza's main southern city of Khan Younis where they had sought refuge, the Red Cross said on Tuesday.

"The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is beyond catastrophic," Tommaso Della Longa, spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told reporters in Geneva.

15:00 An explosion was reported near a merchant vessel off the coast of the Yemeni port city of Aden on Tuesday, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency and British maritime security firm Ambrey said.

Ambrey said a Marshall Islands-flagged, Greek-owned bulk carrier was targeted while heading through the Maritime Security Transit Corridor southbound about 53 nautical miles southwest of Aden. The vessel was traveling from the United States to India.

14:00 Dozens of Israeli settlers, under police protection, stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and performed religious rituals in the Muslim holy site, WAFA reported.

Meanwhile, Israeli police prevented Palestinians from entering the mosque to worship.

13:00 Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels said Tuesday they struck US and British ships in two separate attacks in the Red Sea, one of which was confirmed by a security firm.

In a statement, Houthi Spokesman Yahya Saree said: "The first attack targeted the American ship Star Nasia, while the other targeted the British ship Morning Tide."

Security firm Ambrey had initially reported a drone attack on a British-owned cargo ship off rebel-held Yemen but later said a projectile targeted the Barbados-flagged vessel.

It was launched from a small boat sighted in the vicinity of the ship, Ambrey said, adding that the projectile did not impact the ship directly but exploded nearby, causing minor damage.

There were no casualties among the crew, the British firm said.

British maritime security agency UKMTO said it had received a report of an incident off the rebel-held port city of Hodeida.

"The master stated that a projectile was fired at his vessel on the port side which passed over the deck, causing slight damage to the bridge windows," United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said, without identifying the vessel or the flag it was flying.

"The vessel and crew are safe," it added, saying the ship was proceeding on its voyage as planned.

The Houthis "will carry out more military operations against all hostile American-British targets" in self-defence, Saree said in Tuesday's statement published on X, formerly Twitter.

12:00 The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees expects its preliminary report into Israeli claims that a dozen of its employees took part in the 7 October attack on Israel to be ready by early next month, its representative in Lebanon said on Tuesday.

Dorothee Klaus told reporters in Lebanon that the agency expects donors who suspended their funding after the claims emerged to review their decisions based on the probe.

11:00 At least 27,585 Palestinians have been killed and 66,978 wounded in the Israeli war on Gaza since October 7, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said on Tuesday.

Some 127 Palestinians were killed and 143 wounded in the past 24 hours, the ministry said.

10:45 Israel’s evacuation orders in the Gaza Strip now cover two-thirds of the territory, or 246 square kilometres (95 square miles), United Nations humanitarian monitors said on Tuesday.

The affected area was home to 1.78 million Palestinians, or 77 percent of Gaza’s population, before the Israeli war on Gaza erupted on 7 October, triggered by the Al-Aqsa Flood operation in southern Israel.

Early on in the war, Israel’s military began ordering Palestinians in the northern half of the territory to leave their homes, ostensibly to get out of the way of eventual ground combat. At the same time, Israeli aircraft continued to attack in the southern half, where residents had been told to take refuge.

Throughout the war, evacuation orders eventually expanded to parts of the south, including the city of Khan Younis and surrounding areas, the current focus of Israel’s ground offensive. Tens of thousands of people have fled and continue to flee from there, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Tuesday in its latest daily report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are now crammed into the town of Rafah on the border with Egypt and surrounding areas, OCHA said.

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