Gaza fighting rages as UN chief decries 'horror and starvation' – as it happened

Ahram Online , Sunday 24 Mar 2024

Heavy fighting raged on Gaza Sunday as UN chief Antonio Guterres called for a surge of aid into the besieged territory, which he said was stalked by "horror and starvation."

A man carries a Palestinian youth injured in Israeli bombardment, at the al-Najjar hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 24, 2024. AFP

Talks have been held in Qatar towards a truce and hostage release deal, but the heads of the CIA and Mossad have left Doha for consultations with their governments, an informed source told AFP.

Air and artillery strikes again rained down on Gaza where Israel has vowed to launch its planned ground offensive in the crowded far southern city of Rafah, despite rising global concern and objections from the United States.

The health ministry in the Gaza Strip said Sunday that another 84 people had been killed over the previous 24 hours, raising the total death toll in the territory during nearly six months of war to 32,226.

Palestinian children badly wounded in the latest bombardment were rescued from the rubble of collapsed buildings and rushed for urgent medical care to Al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah.

Guterres, on a visit to Egypt, urged an end to the "non-stop nightmare" endured by Gaza's 2.4 million people since the territory's worst-ever war began on 7 October.

"Looking at Gaza, it almost appears that the four horsemen of war, famine, conquest and death are galloping across it," the United Nations secretary-general said.

"The whole world recognises that it's past time to silence the guns and ensure an immediate humanitarian ceasefire."

As the UN and other aid agencies have warned of the threat of famine in Gaza, Guterres urged Israel to allow in more humanitarian aid via the Rafah border crossing, where trucks were queued up.

20:30 French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that any forced transfer of people from the southern Gaza city of Rafah would constitute "a war crime."

In a telephone call between the two leaders, Macron also "strongly condemned" Israel's announcement Friday of the seizure of 800 hectares of land in the occupied West Bank for new settlements.

20:00 Israeli authorities informed the United Nations on Sunday that it will no longer approve the passage of any UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, food convoys into northern Gaza.

“As of today, UNRWA, the main lifeline for Palestine refugees, is denied from providing lifesaving assistance to northern Gaza,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini wrote in a social media post on X.

He called the decision “outrageous”, saying it was made to intentionally obstruct lifesaving aid deliveries during a man-made famine in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.

He underlined the need to lift this ban, adding that UNRWA – the backbone of the humanitarian response in Gaza – is the largest relief agency in the Strip and has the greatest ability to reach displaced communities there.

“Despite the tragedy unfolding under our watch, the Israeli authorities informed the UN that they will no longer approve  any UNRWA food convoys to the north. This is outrageous & makes it intentional to obstruct lifesaving assistance during a man-made famine,” he wrote.

“These restrictions must be lifted,” he continued.

“By preventing UNRWA to fulfill its mandate in Gaza, the clock will tick faster towards famine & many more will die of hunger, dehydration + lack of shelter,” he warned. “This cannot happen, it would only stain our collective humanity.”

18:00 An Israeli strike on a car near the Syrian border killed a man Sunday, a security source said, after overnight fire wounded four people in Lebanon's east, a second security official said.

Israel and Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group allied to Hamas, have been exchanging cross-border fire almost daily since the Israel war on Gaza erupted last October.

But fears have surged of an all-out conflict in recent weeks, with Israel launching air strikes deeper into eastern Lebanon, targeting Hezbollah strongholds in the Bekaa Valley area several times.

"Israeli aircraft targeted a vehicle in ... Suwairi, killing its Syrian driver," a security source told AFP, requesting anonymity because of security concerns.

15:38 United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that delivering the necessary aid to famine-threatened Gaza requires Israel to "remove the remaining obstacles and chokepoints to relief."

During a press conference in Cairo with Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry, Guterres said Palestinians in Gaza need a flood of humanitarian aid not only “mere airdrops” amid the current catastrophe caused by the Israeli war. 

He stressed that nothing can be as effective as aid delivery by land.

The UN chief remarks come a day after he visited the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing where he stood next to a long line of aid-loaded trucks waiting to enter the besieged Gaza Strip, calling the starvation inside the strip a “moral outrage.” 

15:02 Israel prevented thousands of Christians from the West Bank from accessing the occupied city of Jerusalem to celebrate Palm Sunday according to the Western calendar, WAFA reported.

Palm Sunday Mass took place at the Holy Sepulchre Church in the Old City of Jerusalem and was attended by a limited number of worshipers, mostly from Jerusalem and the 1948 territories.

Israeli forces also imposed strict military measures at checkpoints surrounding the city of Jerusalem and in the vicinity of the Old City.

Simultaneously, Israel closed main roads in the occupied Old City of Hebron to facilitate celebrations by Israeli settlers for Purim, and restricted access for Palestinians to the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque.



14:02 President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced their “complete and categorical” rejection of the displacement of Palestinians from their lands as well as of any military operation in the Palestinian border city of Rafah.

According to a statement by the Egyptian presidency, the pair also warned of the “disastrous” consequences of any operation in Rafah.

The Egyptian president and the UN chief also stressed that the two-state solution is the only viable path to achieving justice, security, and stability.

13:40 US intelligence chief Bill Burns and his Israeli counterpart David Barnea left Qatar late Saturday following talks on a Gaza truce and captives release deal, a source briefed on the talks told AFP.

The CIA and Mossad chiefs "departed Doha to brief their respective teams back home on the latest round" of talks, the source said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

"The talks focused on details and a ratio for the exchange of captives and prisoners", the knowledgeable source added, explaining that "technical teams remain in Doha."

US, Qatari, and Egyptian mediators have been engaged in weeks of behind-the-scenes talks in efforts to secure a second truce in the Gaza war.

Israel had said on Friday that the head of its spy agency was to return to Doha for his second trip in a week after talks were restarted following failed efforts to secure a truce before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began last week.

12:21 Israeli forces arrested at least 16 Palestinians from the occupied West Bank, including a child, raising the number of Palestinians detained by the occupation forces to 7,755 people since 7 October.

The arrests were accompanied by widespread acts of abuse, brutal beatings, threats against the detainees and their families, as well as extensive acts of vandalism and destruction in the homes of citizens, according to the Prisoners and Ex-Prisoners Affairs Authority and the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) as reported by WAFA.

12:00 ️Israeli drones are demanding that all those present in Al-Amal hospital leave naked, the Palestinian Red Crescent announced.

"Smoke bombs are being launched at the hospital to force the staff, wounded, and displaced to evacuate."

"Israeli vehicles surrounding Al-Amal Hospital and are now bulldozing the area in front and around it and closing the hospital gates with barriers," the PRCS added.


11:15 Israel killed 32,226 Palestinians and injured 74,518 others since it started its genocidal war on Gaza on 7 October, the Palestinian health ministry announced.

There have been 84 Palestinians killed and 106 injured in the past 24 hours, the ministry statement added.

11:10 The Israeli army attacked Al-Amal and Nasser Hospitals in Khan Younis, accompanied by intense shelling and heavy gunfire, WAFA reported.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said that all its teams in Al-Amal hospital are currently in extreme danger, unable to move, and incapable of burying the body of their colleague Amir Abu Eisha killed in an Israeli airstrike last night within the hospital yard.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces continued their assault on the Al-Shifa Medical Complex in the Al-Rimal neighborhood, west of Gaza City, for the seventh day in a row.


10:19 The European Union has helped fund drone technology used by Israel in its devastating war in Gaza, two monitors have confirmed, as announced by  Euronews.

Statewatch and Informationsstelle Militarisierung (IMI) found in an analysis that Xtend a drone manufacturer reportedly supporting the Israeli army received a research and development grant from the EU's Horizon Europe fund. 

The two organizations added that "other Israeli military companies and institutions received millions of euros for drone development in recent years, despite a supposed prohibition on EU funding for military and defense projects." 

Xtend received €50,000 from Horizon Europe, a multi-billion research and innovation fund, to produce a study on optimizing its Skylord Xtender drone system and finding "strategic partners for the production and commercialization of the technology," Statewatch and IMI wrote in a statement. 

The company then signed contracts with the US Department of Defence in 2021, which involved Israel's military, according to the monitors.   

10:03 The United States has made a "bridging proposal" for the number of jailed Palestinians to be freed by Israel in exchange for every captive released by Hamas in any new Gaza truce, an Israeli official briefed on the Qatar-hosted talks said on Saturday, according to Reuters.

"During the negotiations, significant gaps came to light on the question of the ratio" of Palestinian detainees to be released for each of the 40 Israelis whose potential recovery is under discussion, said an Israeli official, who requested anonymity.

"The United States put a bridging proposal on the table, to which Israel responded positively. Hamas' response is pending."

The official provided no details on the  American proposal.

Asked about the captive-to-prisoner ratio, senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri referred Reuters to a proposal made by the group this month under which Israel would free between 700 and 1,000 jailed Palestinians in return for female, minor, elderly, and infirm captives. 

An Israeli delegation led by Mossad chief David Barnea has been in Doha for indirect negotiations with the Palestinian resistance group Hamas, which CIA director William Burns is helping Qatari and Egyptian officials to mediate.

10:00 A member of the Palestinian Red Crescent was killed early this morning after being shot by Israeli forces while on duty at Al-Amal Hospital, west of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

His death brings the total number of medical workers, including doctors, nurses, and paramedics, killed by Israeli forces to 364 since the start of the war.

At least seven Palestinians were killed and others were wounded after Israeli warplanes bombed a residential house in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip.

Additionally, Israeli artillery shelled areas southeast of the Khan Younis, in the south.

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