High-level Arab delegations convene with Blinken in Cairo to address Gaza crisis - as it happened

Ahram Online , Thursday 21 Mar 2024

Ahram Online is providing coverage of the Israeli war on Gaza on its 167th day.

A woman pushes a wheelchair next to destroyed buildings in the northern Gaza Strip on March 21, 2024. AFP


21:43 Al Jazeera published exclusive footage from an Israeli drone that was shot down by the resistance in Gaza, revealing Israeli drones deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians fleeing Khan Younis.

The Israeli forces, utilizing the drones, continuously followed a group of Palestinians, shooting at them, killing two individuals and injuring another two. The drone pursued the injured ones and killed them while they were attempting to escape.



21:00 The Al-Qassam Brigades released footage purportedly documenting their fighters confronting Israeli occupation vehicles penetrating the vicinity of the Al-Shifa Medical Complex in Gaza City.



20:35 US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said any Israeli military operation in Rafah will worsen the situation, given that there are currently one and a half million displaced Palestinians in the Gaza border city.

During a joint press conference with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry following his meeting with Arab officials in Cairo, Blinken reiterated the United States’ rejection of any forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza or the re-occupation of the strip.

"There is no place for the civilians amassed in Rafah to get out of harm's way," said Blinken. "

He refused, however, to comment on a question about the United States' position in case Israel invades Rafah and whether it will continue to supply it with weapons, considering such a question to be about future matters that he refuses to comment on.

He said that 100 percent of the population in Gaza is experiencing severe levels of acute food insecurity, calling unacceptable the death of children from malnutrition.

“We can’t and we must not allow that to continue,” The US secretary of state said in a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry following his meeting with Arab officials.

He added that though there has been some improvement in the entry of human assistance to the strip in the past two weeks, the amount of aid entering Gaza was still far from enough.

Blinken said that the United States has been working with Egypt, Qatar, and Israel to put forward a strong proposal, and that Hamas has responded to the US ceasefire proposal, with efforts being made to overcome the obstacles.

He said "gaps are narrowing" in talks. "It's difficult to get there, but I believe it is still possible."

Israel's top ally, the United States which has previously vetoed all UN Security Council resolutions, calling for a ceasefire, has now circulated a draft resolution, stressing "the need for an immediate and durable ceasefire" to protect civilians and allow aid into the territory.

A vote on the Security Council resolution is expected Friday, Washington said.

20:17 US lawmakers moved Thursday to prohibit any further funding for the UN Palestinian refugee agency, which Israel has attempted to link to Hamas without providing evidence, and despite refutations of such allegations as baseless.

A $1.2 trillion funding package hammered out by lawmakers early Thursday says that US government money -- either leftover funds from the current year or in the next fiscal year -- "may not be used for a contribution, grant or other payment" for UNRWA.

This comes as Israel continues its efforts to smear the UN refugee agency, often seen as the last lifeline for Gazans, while diverting attention from its growing list of war crimes in the Gaza Strip.

Israel had launched an expanded, concerted campaign aimed at destroying UNRWA," Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the UN agency said.

Over 760,000 Palestinians fled as they were driven forcibly from their homes in what is referred to by Palestinians as the "Nakba" (catastrophe in Arabic).

Around 180,000 fled to Gaza, with the rest scattered across the West Bank and neighbouring Arab countries, specifically Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

In 1949, the United Nations set up the UNRWA to provide them and their descendants, who also have refugee status, with basic services, including health and education.

Israel has been systematically targeting UNRWA for years, persisting in undermining its mission and calling for ending the definition of Palestinian refugees. Israel has also persistently refused to recognize Palestinians' "right of return," which is backed by the UN in Resolution 194.

US lawmakers released the plan to keep the government running ahead of a deadline of midnight on Friday when three-quarters of the government will run out of funds if a deal is not reached.

Both the Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate are expected to approve the plan, which would then be sent to Biden for his signature, despite misgivings by some lawmakers about some provisions.

Israel has accused 12 of UNRWA's roughly 13,000 Gaza employees of participating in the Hamas' Al-Aqsa flood against Israel on 7 October and accused the agency of being a front for Hamas.

However, Israel failed to provide any evidence for such claims, prompting countries that had previously halted funding to resume their contributions to the agency.

The European Union's top humanitarian aid official said he had seen no evidence from Israel to back its accusations against staff from the UN Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA), which should continue playing a "critical" role in Gaza.

Janez Lenarcic, the head of humanitarian aid and crisis management at the European Commission, said that neither he nor - according to his knowledge - anybody else at the EU executive, or any other UNRWA donor, had been presented with evidence by Israel.

UNRWA has been very critical of Israel's mass killing and starvation policy in Gaza.

"It is easy to flood Gaza with food. It is easy to reverse this trend. It is a stain in our collective humanity that such a situation is artificially unfolding under our eyes," Philippe Lazzarini, the Commissioner-General of the UNRWA said. 

"Political will is the response to man-made famine," Lazzarini stressed.



19:12 At least four Palestinians were killed and several others injured in an Israeli strike targeting a vehicle in the town of Bani Suhaila, east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, the Palestinian news agency, Wafa, reported.

​Additionally, Israeli bombardments and artillery strikes targeted the town of Al-Qarara, northeast of Khan Younis, with no reported injuries or casualties thus far, according to Wafa.

Meanwhile, Israeli military sources and the Israeli internal security agency "Shin Bet" announced that over 140 Palestinians were killed during their operation at the Al-Shifa Medical Complex in Gaza City, as reported by Israeli media.

They also disclosed the detention of more than 600 Palestinians during the raids on the hospital, which serves as a refuge for numerous displaced and injured Palestinians.

In the northern region, Wafa reported that Israeli military tanks unleashed heavy gunfire on a gathering of civilians near Al-Kuwaiti Roundabout, east of Gaza City, resulting in multiple casualties.

The roundabout, known as an area where aid trucks distribute food, has become a frequent target of Israeli attacks and gunfire against aid-seekers. The most brutal incident was the "flour massacre" on 15 March, during which over 100 individuals were killed and more than 200 wounded, many in critical condition.

19:10 Armed Israeli settlers persist in attacking Palestinians in the occupied territory.

Footage from this morning shows their provocation and assault on Palestinian shepherds and their herds of sheep south of Hebron in the West Bank.



18:55 Israeli occupation forces forcibly detained Imad al-Ifrangi, a Palestinian journalist and correspondent for Al-Quds newspaper, and subjected him and his family to assault at their residence in Gaza.

Following this, the Israeli forces forced his family to vacate the premises and relocate southward before proceeding to demolish the property, Quds News Network reported.

18:40 Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, shared footage of a young Palestinian named Rafiq, "one of many children and young people in northern Gaza who are starving and suffering from grievous injuries."

In the video, Rafiq is depicted lying in a hospital bed, sustaining severe injuries. 

Doctors explain that he underwent multiple surgeries and a leg amputation after being trapped under rubble from Israeli bombardment. 

Lack of food and proper nutrition had exacerbated his condition, they said.

The young boy expresses the scarcity of food and painkillers, and his struggle to sleep due to the intensity of his pain.

"History will judge us all for what these children are enduring," Ghebreyesus added.

International organizations and Human rights groups have been warning of an imminent famine in Gaza as Israel continues to block humanitarian aid, while the EU has accused Tel Aviv of using food as a weapon of war in Gaza.



18:23 Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved an Israeli delegation to depart for Qatar, as part of truce and captives release negotiations with Hamas.

According to Netanyahu's Office, the delegation will be led by Mossad chief David Barnea, where he will meet with his American counterpart William Burns, and the Egyptian and Qatari heads of intelligence.

Previously, Israeli officials, including Netanyahu downplayed the prospect of a new deal, as Hamas put a new plan on the table. 

Qatar has expressed cautious optimism after the previous meeting of senior officials in Doha, though there was "no time limit for negotiations."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who arrived in Egypt to discuss the ongoing Israeli war, voiced his optimism, saying a deal is "getting closer. I think the gaps are narrowing, and I think an agreement is very much possible."

18:10 Hamas called for urgent action to halt the Israeli attack on Al-Shifa Hospital, and to further demonstrate solidarity and support for the Palestinians, "who have been enduring heinous crimes at the hands of the new Nazis for nearly six continuous months."

Hamas noted in a statement that "The occupation army continues its aggression on Al-Shifa Medical Complex and its surroundings in Gaza City for the fourth consecutive day, destroying many of the hospital's facilities."

The statement further indicated that Israeli forces are detonating and burning the surrounding residential buildings, detaining displaced persons, medical staff, and patients, subjecting them to abuse, and recently demanding their evacuation to the south under the threat of arms.

"The deafening silence towards the plight of Al-Shifa Complex and its besieged occupants is a stain of shame and moral failure on the international community and the United Nations," it continued. "They are unable to halt the Zionist killing machine and pressure Washington to cease its partnership and support with arms to the Zionist Nazi occupation."

18:00 The Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan, alongside the Minister of State for International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates and the Secretary-General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization are currently in a meeting in Cairo with the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, who is visiting Egypt.

The Arab nations are collectively articulating their vision to halt the Israeli war on Gaza and mitigate the dire humanitarian crisis, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.



17:12 The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) revealed on Thursday that around 37 Palestinian mothers are killed by Israel every day in the Gaza Strip, while Arab nations are celebrating Mother’s Day.



Moreover, the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) and the Detainees and Ex-Detainees Commission reported that 28 Palestinian mothers, detained in Israeli prisons, are unjustly denied their right to celebrate this occasion with their children.

Since the start of the Israeli war on Gaza, around 31,988 Palestinians have been killed in the besieged strip, with 74,188 others wounded, a vast majority of whom are children and women.

Nearly all of the 2.4 million Palestinians in Gaza are facing starvation, many of them experiencing “famine-like conditions” as Israel continues to prevent the entry of vital humanitarian aid into the besieged territory.

17:05 An Israeli air strike and gunfire have killed four Palestinians at the Nour Shams refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Red Crescent said Thursday in an updated toll.

Israeli forces withdrew from Nour Shams in the morning, AFP correspondents said, hours after the occupation army announced around midnight (2200 GMT on Wednesday) that it had launched an operation in the area.

The Palestinian Red Crescent (PRCS) said on social media platform X that its "ambulance teams have just transported an 18-year-old man who was killed by the Israeli occupation forces in Nur Shams camp," bringing the death toll in the raid to four people.

Two were killed by air strike and two by live bullets, the Red Crescent said.

One of the fatalities was identified by his family as Nidal Ali Abu Abeid, a vegetable seller at the northern West Bank camp near the Palestinian town of Tulkarem.

At least 443 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or terrorist settlers across the West Bank since 7 October, according to the Palestinian health ministry.



16:30 Foreign ministers from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar, alongside the UAE Minister of International Cooperation and the Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization, met today in Cairo to discuss the ongoing Israeli war on the Gaza Strip.

They stressed the importance of achieving a comprehensive ceasefire, facilitating the unhindered flow of humanitarian aid to the besieged territory, and opening all crossings with Gaza, according to a joint statement.

They also called for the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2720, which stipulates the critical need to address the humanitarian situation facing over two million Palestinians on the brink of famine.

The meeting underscored unwavering support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), the primary agency providing humanitarian assistance to Palestinians.

The ministers vehemently rejected any attempts to displace Palestinians or liquidate their cause.

They urged Israel to cease unilateral actions that undermine the prospects for lasting peace, including settlement expansion in the occupied territories and alteration of the historical and legal status quo of occupied Jerusalem, particularly its holy sites.

They also emphasized the importance of the historic Hashemite custodianship in protecting the Arab, Islamic, and Christian identity of these sanctuaries and the inevitability of implementing the two-state solution and establishing a Palestinian state.



16:00 Cyprus hosted a meeting Thursday aimed at sending "as many boats as possible" carrying aid to the Gaza Strip along a maritime corridor, Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said.

Representatives of 36 countries, United Nations agencies, and humanitarian groups participated in the meeting in the Cypriot port of Larnaca, where a first aid vessel embarked earlier this month and a second ship was waiting to depart.

The charity-run Open Arms made the maiden trip across the Mediterranean, pulling a barge loaded with 200 tons of desperately needed food aid. It reached besieged Gaza on Friday.

With insufficient aid trucks entering by road more than five months into the Israeli war on Gaza, efforts have multiplied to get relief into the long-blockaded territory by air and sea despite humanitarian officials insisting overland access is the most effective way.

Kombos said Thursday's meeting in Cyprus, the nearest European Union member country to Gaza, aimed to secure funding for the maritime aid corridor and explore ways to augment its operational capacity.

He noted that G7 member states, the European Union, and the United Nations were willing to contribute to the relief operation, stressing the cardinal importance of the participation of aid agencies and charities.

The meeting, which Israeli officials also attended, "is about integrating all the states and entities that are participating to have a synchronized pace for our actions," said Kombos.

The aim was to get "as many boats as possible" to leave for Gaza, "utilizing and leveraging... our geographical position in the area," the Cypriot top diplomat said.

He added there were "limitations in terms of the reception and distribution" but said there were no plans for infrastructure projects on the ground in Gaza.

US aid group World Central Kitchen, which collaborated with the Spanish Open Arms in the first delivery, built a makeshift jetty southwest of Gaza City to receive the shipment.

A second ship, the "Jennifer", has been waiting for the weather to clear before it can set sail from Larnaca, Kombos said.

14:45 President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi warned of the dangerous consequences of any Israeli military ground operation in the Palestinian city of Rafah during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday.

President El-Sisi reiterated to Secretary Blinken his call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

During the meeting, El-Sisi told Blinken that innocent civilians in Gaza are being exposed to a humanitarian catastrophe and famine, according to a statement by the Egyptian presidency.

The president stressed the necessity of urgent action to allow sufficient quantities of humanitarian aid into the strip.

The head of Egypt's General Intelligence Service, Abbas Kamel, attended the meeting.

Blinken arrived in Cairo earlier Thursday on his sixth regional tour since the start of Israel's war on Gaza on 7 October.

13:45 Cairo will host a meeting on Thursday that will bring together the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan, alongside the UAE Minister of International Cooperation, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a new bid to push for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The Arab foreign ministers will convene in Cairo with the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization before meeting Blinken.

12:45 The health ministry in Gaza said Thursday that Israel killed at least 31,988 people in the territory during more than five months of the war on Gaza.

The latest toll includes at least 65 deaths in the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, adding that 74,188 people have been wounded in Gaza since the war began.

11:50 The latest Israeli aggression has included an assault on Gaza City's Al-Shifa Hospital, a vast complex crowded with patients and people seeking refuge, where Israel says Palestinian fighters are holed up.

The Israeli occupation army said "over 300 suspects" had been apprehended in the hospital raid that began Monday, including "dozens of senior terrorists and those with key positions."

Hamas condemned Israeli "crimes" at Al-Shifa "for the third day in a row, the executions of dozens of displaced persons, patients, and staff."

The health ministry in Gaza said at least 70 people had been killed overnight.

10:50 The Israeli occupation army says it launched an airstrike that killed two Palestinian militants during a raid in the occupied West Bank.

The army claimed in a statement that the two posed a threat to its forces, which were operating in the built-up Nour Shams refugee camp in Tulkarem.

The Palestinian health ministry confirmed the deaths.


Palestinians evacuated the body of a man killed in an earlier Israeli raid at the Nour Shams refugee camp near Tulkarem in the occupied West Bank on 21 March 2024. AFP 


On Wednesday, a separate Israeli airstrike killed three Palestinian fighters travelling in a car in the northern West Bank.

The Islamic Jihad group claimed them as members.

At least 435 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli fire since 7 October, according to Palestinian health officials.

10:00 The United States has circulated a draft UN Security Council resolution calling for an "immediate ceasefire linked to the release of hostages" in the Gaza Strip, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

The diplomat announced this during his tour in the Middle East, set to conclude in Israel.

Key Israel backer the United States has vetoed previous UN Security Council votes on the nearly six-month war, objecting as recently as in February to the use of the term "immediate" in a draft submitted by Algeria.

In recent weeks, however, Washington has upped the pressure on its ally, while insisting that Hamas must immediately release the captives they seized during the Al-Aqsa Flood operation on 7 October against Israel.

"Well, in fact, we have a resolution that we put forward right now that's before the United Nations Security Council that does call for an immediate ceasefire tied to the release of hostages, and we hope very much that countries will support that," Blinken said in Saudi Arabia.

"I think that would send a strong message, a strong signal," he told Saudi media outlet Al Hadath on Wednesday.

"Of course, we stand with Israel and its right to defend itself ... but at the same time, it's imperative that the civilians who are in harm's way and who are suffering so terribly that we focus on them, that we make them a priority, protecting the civilians, getting them humanitarian assistance," Blinken said.

US officials had been negotiating an alternative text since blocking an Algerian draft resolution calling for an "immediate humanitarian ceasefire" in Gaza at the end of February.

That alternative, focusing on support for a six-week truce in exchange for the release of captives, had little chance of winning approval, according to diplomatic sources.

A new version, seen by AFP, stresses "the need for an immediate and durable ceasefire to protect civilians on all sides, enable the delivery of essential humanitarian aid, and alleviate suffering ... in conjunction with the release of hostages still held."

No vote has yet been scheduled on this text.

Blinken met Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and then talked with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman soon after landing in the kingdom on Wednesday on the first leg of a regional tour that will include Egypt on Thursday and Israel on Friday.

Blinken's tour, his sixth to the region since the Israeli war on Gaza began, runs parallel with talks in Qatar, where mediators met for a third day on Wednesday in a renewed effort to secure a ceasefire but with little indication of an imminent agreement.

The plan being discussed in Qatar would temporarily halt the fighting as captives are exchanged for Palestinian prisoners and the delivery of relief supplies to Gaza is stepped up.

The talks in Qatar this week have given little indication of an imminent agreement.

A senior Hamas official based in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, said Israel's response to the group's latest proposal was "largely negative ... and constitutes a step backwards."

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