Conflicting signals on Gaza deal: Biden confirms, other parties downplay imminence - as it happened

Ahram Online , Tuesday 27 Feb 2024

Ahram Online is following the latest developments in the Israeli war on Gaza on its 144th day.

Palestinians walk past the rubble of the Al-Faruq mosque destroyed by Israeli bombardment in Rafah i
Palestinians walk past the rubble of the Al-Faruq mosque destroyed by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP

 

22:49 United States National Security Council (NSC) Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby confirmed on Tuesday that negotiations between Hamas and Israel are ongoing but no agreement reached yet.

Kirby emphasized in a press conference the complexity of the discussions, stating: "There's no deal as of yet, and there's a lot more work to do ... We're still working out the modalities of this arrangement."

However, he dodged answering a question posed by a journalist about Joe Biden's comments on the possibility of a ceasefire in Gaza by Monday.

He said that "significant progress" had been made. "We're building on that progress this week, and the president and his team remain engaged around the clock with multiple partners in the region."

The ceasefire, Kirby said, would "hopefully" allow for a six-week pause.

"Maybe that could lead to something more in terms of a better approach to end the conflict," he said.

Kirby told CNN earlier that the US will not support Israel’s planned offensive into Rafah until officials have seen a plan that ensures the safety of refugees seeking shelter in the city. The belief comes despite comments from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicating Israel will move into Rafah regardless of whether a humanitarian pause is negotiated in Gaza.

Kirby cited comments from Netanyahu earlier this month that he has ordered Israeli Defense Forces to produce “a plan for operations in Rafah – to include in that a plan for securing the safety of the more-than-a-million refugees that are there.”

But he acknowledged that the US has “not been presented with such a plan” to date.

22:40 Hamas on Tuesday played down suggestions that it was close to reaching an agreement with Israel.

According to The Washington Post, Basem Naim, a Hamas spokesman in Lebanon, said in a text message that Hamas had yet to formally receive “any new proposals” since senior Israeli officials met with Qatari, Egyptian, and US mediators in Paris last week to advance a possible deal.

Another Hamas official, Ahmad Abdel-Hadi, said that the group was sticking to its demands and that leaks about the talks were designed to put pressure on Hamas to soften its position.

Hamas “is not interested in any concessions that do not lead to a complete and total cessation of the aggression against our people,” Abdel-Hadi said in an interview with Al-Mayadeen, a Lebanese broadcaster.

“We are not interested in engaging with what’s been floated, because it does not fulfill our demands,” he added.

Earlier Reuters said that Hamas has received a draft proposal from Gaza truce talks in Paris for a pause in military operations and the exchange of detainees.

20:58 The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) expressed deep concern over the recent escalation between Israel and Hezbollah, warning it would put at risk a resolution to the crisis.

"Over the past days we have seen a concerning shift in the exchanges of fire," the force said on X.

"In recent days, we have continued our active engagement with the parties to decrease tensions and prevent dangerous misunderstandings, but recent events have the potential to put at risk a political solution to this conflict," the UN mission added.

The UNIFIL urged "all parties involved to halt hostilities to prevent further escalation and leave space to a political and diplomatic solution that can bring back stability and ensure the safety of the people in this region."

 

19:25 Egypt's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry accused the international community of double standards in its handling of the Gaza crisis at the 55th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.

Shoukry criticized "certain international entities" for undermining ceasefire efforts in Gaza while actively seeking to end conflicts elsewhere. This approach, he argued, effectively gives Israel a "green light" to continue its violations against Palestinians.

He further condemned the inaction and the muted response of some UNHRC member states towards the situation in Gaza. He pointed out that these nations readily condemn human rights and international humanitarian law violations in other conflicts, yet have largely avoided taking meaningful action against Israel's violations in Palestine.

"Instead," Shoukry said, "they were content in the Gaza case to expect that international law and human rights would be respected without regard to whether their calls were responded to or not."

He argued that this inaction sends a dangerous message, implying that the lives of Palestinian children, killed by tens of thousands in the Israeli war on Gaza, are of lesser value on the global stage and that these nations' "sensitive feelings" are not touched by their murder.

Shoukry went on to suggest that "these shameful positions indicate the collapse of the international human rights system and its mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council."

19:08 Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said that one month after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to ensure basic aid reaches people in Gaza, the humanitarian situation remains dire and Israel has instead tightened its blockade of the strip, hindering the entry of vital supplies

At the same time, the provision of aid within the territory is nearly impossible due to Israel’s complete disregard for the protection and safety of medical and humanitarian missions and their staff, cutting people off from lifesaving aid. This reality is making the humanitarian response in Gaza a mere illusion," the group said in a statement.

“The stark absence of humanitarian space and lack of supplies we’re witnessing in Gaza is truly horrific,” says Lisa Macheiner, MSF project coordinator in Gaza.

“If people are not killed by bombs, they are suffering from food and water deprivation and dying from a lack of medical care.”

 

19:00 US President Joe Biden is facing anger from key Arab-American voters in the Michigan primary over Israel's support in the Gaza war.

As voters head to the polls for Michigan's Democratic primary on Tuesday, a local campaign urges Democrats to choose "uncommitted" on the ballot as a form of protest vote.

As the toll of Palestinians killed by Israel in Gaza mounts, Biden has seen support erode among Muslims and Arab Americans, a bloc crucial to his narrow 2020 victory in Michigan over Donald Trump.

"President Biden has funded the bombs falling on the family members of people right here in Michigan people who voted for him, who now feel completely betrayed," said Layla Elabed of the Listen to Michigan campaign.

The group aims to amass 10,000 "uncommitted" voters to deliver a "powerful, unequivocal message" that funding and supporting the war is "at odds with the values of the Democratic Party."

Palestinian-American lawmaker Rashida Tlaib, one of the strongest critics of the US-backed war in Gaza, has said that she is "proud" to have voted "uncommitted."

"When 74 percent of Democrats in Michigan support a ceasefire yet President Biden is not hearing us, this is the way we can use our democracy to say Listen to Michigan," she said in a video shared on X.

18:35 The United States announced another $53 million in humanitarian assistance for Palestinians as the US aid chief pleaded for protection to relief workers in war-ravaged Gaza.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) said the aid would go through the World Food Programme and non-governmental groups, as Israel and some Western powers, including the US, have blocked funds to the UN refugee agency in besieged Gaza.

Announcing the aid in a video from Jordan, USAID Administrator Samantha Power said: "The aid workers who are on the ground in Gaza are risking their lives to get food to people in desperate, desperate need, those aid workers have to be protected."

"They have to know they can do their jobs without being shot at and killed," she said.

The assistance brings total US emergency assistance to the Palestinians to $180 million since the Israeli war on Gaza began.

The United States has previously flown aid by military plane to Egypt to cross into Gaza.

But the United States and other Western nations have suspended funding to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, in response to unproven Israeli allegations that some of its staff participated in the Al-Aqsa Flood Operation.

The UN fired the employees accused by Israel and has begun an internal probe of UNRWA.

With UNRWA blocked from aid deliveries, the United Nations has warned of looming famine threatening virtually everyone in Gaza.

18:05 The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said its teams in Jabalia, northern Gaza, are receiving hundreds of patients showing symptoms linked to infectious diseases that are spreading rapidly due to overcrowding, medicine shortage, and a lack of clean water.

 

17:47 Qatar’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari said on Tuesday that Doha was positive over the mediation talks on a Gaza deal, though he could not confirm a breakthrough in the discussions.

Speaking during a weekly press briefing in Doha, Al-Ansari said: "We are hopeful, not necessarily optimistic, that we can announce something" before Thursday.

"We are going to push for a pause before the beginning of Ramadan," Al-Ansari added.

"We are all aiming towards that target, but the situation is still fluid on the ground."

17:12 World Health Organization Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the WHO, UN, and Palestine Red Crescent (PRCS) transferred 24 patients out of Al-Amal Hospital over the weekend, with the facility reeling under an Israeli siege and constant attacks.

“WHO, UN, and PRCS reached besieged Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza, over the weekend and transferred 24 patients, including one pregnant woman, one mother, and a newborn,” Ghebreyesus said in a post on X.

“The hospital experienced 40 attacks from 22 January to 22 February, which killed at least 25 and left it incapacitated. 31 patients are still in the hospital.”

“Palestine Red Crescent paramedics were mistreated and humiliated while leaving Al Amal trying to reach the receiving hospital on their way back, despite the fact that missions only proceed with full coordination approval and safety assurances,” he added.

“Three paramedics were detained. One has since been released. We appeal for the immediate release of the other two and all other detained health workers.”

17:10 Since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its ruling on 26 January, Israel has killed at least 3,500 Palestinians and injured more than 5,200, Al Jazeera said according to their tally.

The ICJ ordered Israel, a month ago, to take all possible measures to prevent acts of genocide and to ensure unfettered humanitarian aid access for Gazans suffering under Israel's war.

But Israel has all the same pushed forward with its invasion pushing an estimated 1.3 million Gazans to the southernmost city of Rafah near the Egyptian border.

 

 

Israel has also severely restricted adequate humanitarian aid access for some 2.3 million Palestinians one of the main ICJ provisions to Israel.

The UNRWA Chief Philippe Lazzarini said there has been a 50 percent decrease in the volume of humanitarian aid entering Gaza in February compared to January.

"Aid was supposed to increase not decrease to address the huge needs of 2 million Palestinians in desperate living conditions," Lazzarini said on Monday in a post on X.

 

At the same time, Israel’s relentless bombardment has already displaced more than 85 percent of the population and reduced most of the territory to rubble, while Israeli forces have brazenly targeted several medical facilities in Gaza sheltering the displaced, including Nasser Hospital among other civilian-packed areas.

More than 7,000 Palestinians are still missing and presumed dead under the rubble, Al Jazeera reported, citing the Gaza government media office.

The office last week said that 700,000 Palestinians in northern Gaza are still at risk of famine due to the difficulty of providing aid access for areas in the north, where social order has collapsed out of severe urgency.

16:50 The United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Office (OCHA) said the Israeli army stalled a medical evacuation convoy in the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, detaining a paramedic and forcing others to remove their clothes.

The incident occurred on Sunday during the evacuation of 24 patients from the city's Al-Amal Hospital, it said. 

The hospital complex has been under siege by Israel's army.

"Despite prior coordination for all staff members and vehicles with the Israeli side, the Israeli forces blocked the WHO-led (World Health Organization) convoy for many hours the moment it left the hospital," Jens Laerke, spokesperson for OCHA, told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.

"The Israeli military forced patients and staff out of ambulances and stripped all paramedics of their clothes," Laerke said.

"Three Palestinian Red Crescent Society paramedics were subsequently detained, although their details had been shared with the Israeli forces in advance."

He said one paramedic was later released and appealed for the release of the two others and all other detained health personnel.

Laerke said Sunday's incident was not isolated, with aid convoys coming under fire, humanitarian workers harassed, intimidated or detained, and humanitarian infrastructure damaged.

16:00 A vigil is taking place in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, United States, in memory of Aaron Bushnell, an active-duty member of the US Air Force who self-immolated in protest against the aggression on Gaza.

Many hope the death of Bushnell, 25, will spark change in US President Joe Biden’s unwavering support for the Israeli war.

 

 

14:15 Hamas has received a draft proposal from Gaza truce talks in Paris for a pause in military operations and the exchange of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli captives, a senior source close to the talks told Reuters on Tuesday.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden said Israel has agreed to halt military activities in Gaza for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as Hamas studied the draft proposal.

Based on a statement provided to Reuters by the source, the draft proposal for the first stage of the deal would last 40 days and the prisoner-captive exchange would be at an overall ratio of 10 to one.

Also included in the proposal:

* Both parties stop their military operations completely.
* Aerial reconnaissance operations over Gaza will stop for eight hours a day.
* All Israeli captives, including women, children under 19 years of age, the elderly aged 50 years and above, and the sick, must be released in exchange for a specific number of Palestinian prisoners, according to the numbers listed below.
* In exchange for the 40 captives listed under the humanitarian category, approximately 400 Palestinian prisoners will be released, according to the ratio of 10 prisoners to one captive.
* Gradual return of all displaced civilians  except men of military service age  to the northern Gaza Strip.
* After commencing the first phase, Israel will reposition its forces away from densely populated areas in the Gaza Strip.

Humanitarian aid to Gaza:

* Commitment to bring in 500 trucks per day of humanitarian aid.
* Commitment to providing 200,000 tents and 60,000 caravans.
* Allowing the rehabilitation of hospitals and bakeries in Gaza, including immediately allowing the entry of necessary equipment and providing fuel shipments for these purposes, according to quantities to be agreed upon.
* Israel agrees to the entry of heavy machinery and equipment to remove rubble and assist with other humanitarian purposes, with the provision of fuel shipments necessary for these purposes, according to quantities to be agreed upon, provided that they increase over time. Hamas pledges not to use these machines and equipment to threaten Israel.
* It is understood that the arrangements agreed upon in the first phase will not apply to the second phase, which will be subject to subsequent separate negotiations.

13:30 The Egyptian Air Forces are set to airdrop humanitarian aid, including food and medical assistance, in the Gaza Strip, in collaboration with the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, a high-level security source said.

This is Egypt’s first airdrop of humanitarian aid operation in the strip since the start of the Israeli aggression and blockade on Gaza on 7 October.

13:00 Israeli troops killed three Palestinians in an overnight raid in a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said on Tuesday.

It was the latest in a surge of violence in the restive Palestinian territory since the outbreak of the Israeli war on Gaza on 7 October.

The Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah said the three men were killed "by Israeli occupation bullets" during clashes in the Faraa refugee camp near the town of Tubas in the northern West Bank.

Video footage posted on social media showed Israeli military vehicles entering Faraa under the cover of darkness.

"Dozens of young men and armed men from the camp confronted the forces before they called for more reinforcements, including bulldozers that dug the camp's streets and struck the water and sewage networks," said Assem Mansour, head of the camp's popular committee.

One of the three men killed was a militant, he said, while the other two were civilians "in their homes and were killed by snipers deployed in the camp."

The Israeli military has arrested thousands of Palestinians in raids in the West Bank since 7 October.

At least 403 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops or settlers in the West Bank.

 


Relatives and friends mourn the bodies of Ussama Jabr Zalt and Mohammed Samih Bayadseh at the Turkish Hospital morgue in Tubas on February 27, 2024, who were killed during an earlier Israeli raid on the town and the nearby Farea refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. AFP

12:30 Arish Airport in North Sinai governorate has received 502 aircraft carrying aid to the Gaza Strip since 12 October 2023, according to a statement.

These aircraft brought 15,000 tons of aid and relief materials from 50 Arab and foreign countries, in addition to regional and international aid organizations.

 


An ambulance part of a joint French Qatari humanitarian aid package to Gaza, is pictured on the tarmac following the arrival of a cargo airplane from Doha in Egypt's Arish airport near the border with the Palestinian territory on February 26, 2024. AFP

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12:00 Egypt's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry pushed for a ceasefire in Gaza and increased international support for the Palestinian people while meeting with his counterparts at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.

Shoukry's meetings came during his participation at the high-level segment (HLS) of the 55th session of the UNHRC and the HLS of the Conference on Disarmament, taking place in Geneva on 26-28 February.

The top Egyptian diplomat condemned the disregard shown by some parties on Monday in their statements before the UN Human Rights Council in Genevan concerning the humanitarian suffering of Palestinians, describing it as "disgraceful."

11:30 The Palestinian Ministry of Health said Israel committed 11 massacres in the past 24 hours, killing 96 citizens and wounding 172 others.

Several victims remain in the streets and under the rubble as Israel's army continues to target rescue teams and residents, who attempt to reach them.

The ministry said that the Palestinian death toll in the Israeli war on the strip had risen to 29,878 and the number of injured passed the 70,000 mark today.

 


Palestinians mourn the bodies of relatives who were killed in overnight Israeli air strikes on the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, at Rafah's Najjar hospital on February 27, 2024. AFP

11:15 In Rafah, amid Israeli threats to carry out a ground invasion of the under-siege city, displaced Palestinians gathered in the evening hours around lit and colorful Fanous Ramadan. 

In high spirits, youth and children sang the traditional Ahlan Ramadan as they welcomed the fast-approaching holy month.

 

 

10:00 US President Joe Biden said Israel would be willing to halt its war on Gaza during the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan if a deal is reached to release some of the captives held by Hamas.

Negotiators from the US, Egypt, and Qatar are working on a framework deal under which Hamas would release some of the dozens of captives it holds, in exchange for the release of some of the thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons and a six-week halt in fighting.

During the temporary pause, negotiations would continue over the release of the remaining captives.

There was no immediate Israeli reaction to Biden’s comments, released for publication early Tuesday.

The start of Ramadan, around March 10, is an unofficial deadline for a ceasefire deal. The month is a time of heightened religious observance and dawn-to-dusk fasting for hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world.

Biden said Monday that he hopes a ceasefire deal could take effect by next week.

During a pause, negotiations would continue over the release of the remaining captives and the release of additional Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

“Ramadan’s coming up and there has been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan as well, to give us time to get all the hostages out,” Biden said in an appearance on NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers.”

At the same time, Biden did not call for an end to the Israeli war on Gaza, which started on 7 October.

He left open the door to an eventual Israeli ground offensive in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, on the border with Egypt, where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has fled under Israeli evacuation orders.

The prospect of an invasion of Rafah has prompted global alarm over the fate of Gaza civilians trapped there. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said a ground operation in Rafah is an inevitable component of Israel’s strategy for crushing Hamas.

Biden said Monday that he believes Israel has slowed its bombardment of Rafah. “They have to and they have made a commitment to me that they’re going to see to it that there’s an ability to evacuate significant portions of Rafah before they go and take out the remainder Hamas … but it’s a process,” he said.

09:00 Hezbollah said it launched a salvo of rockets at an Israeli air control base on Tuesday in retaliation for deadly Israeli strikes on east Lebanon.

Hamas ally Hezbollah has exchanged near-daily fire with the Israeli army since the Gaza war erupted in October, but strikes have been largely restricted to the border area.

Hezbollah said it targeted the "Meron air control base ... with a large salvo of rockets from several launchers."

It said the rocket fire was in response to Israel's first strikes of the war on eastern Lebanon.

Israel struck Hezbollah targets near the city of Baalbek, killing two of its fighters, security sources said. The Israeli army said it targeted Hezbollah's air defenses after the group downed one of its drones.

In retaliation, Hezbollah already fired 60 rockets at an Israeli base in the annexed Golan Heights on Monday.


This picture taken from an Israeli position along the border with southern Lebanon shows rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel on February 26, 2024. AFP

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