Gaza war enters seventh month, new truce talks expected

AFP , Sunday 7 Apr 2024

The Israeli war that has devastated the Gaza Strip entered its seventh month on Sunday, with talks towards a truce and captive release deal expected to resume in Cairo.

File photo-A Palestinian reacts as a child is carried from the rubble of a building after an airstrike in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. AP


As the bloodiest ever Israeli war on Gaza passed the half-year mark, Israel's government has faced a growing international backlash against its military campaign, and mass street protests at home.

A Palestinian father-of-six in northern Gaza, Muhammad Yunis, 51, told AFP the territory's 2.4 million people desperately need a reprieve from the bombardment and suffering.

"It's been half a year and the bombing and starvation continue," said the man from Beit Lahia, now a broken landscape of shattered buildings.

"Watching the thin bodies of our children takes away our souls ... I feel helpless and humiliated," he said.

"Isn't the bombing, death and destruction enough? There are bodies still under the rubble. We can smell the stench."

Hospital an 'empty shell'

Vast areas of Gaza have been turned into a rubble-strewn wasteland and its people have been trapped in a dire humanitarian crisis amid an Israeli siege.

Gaza has received only sporadic aid via a road crossing with Egypt, airdrops and two sea shipments -- but aid agencies warn the deliveries fall far short of the dire needs.

Under US pressure, Israel has pledged to allow for the first time aid deliveries through its Erez border crossing with northern Gaza.

After months of war, most of Gaza's hospitals are out of action and the largest, Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, lies largely in ruins.

After fierce battles there, Al-Shifa is "now an empty shell with human graves", said World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Israel has faced a storm of international outrage over the killing of seven aid workers of the US-based food charity World Central Kitchen in a Gaza air strike on April 1.

US President Joe Biden in a terse phone call with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday demanded vastly greater aid deliveries into the territory now threatened by famine.

Biden also urged an "immediate ceasefire" and hinted at making US support for Israel conditional on curtailing the killing of civilians and improving humanitarian conditions.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also demanded that "this terrible conflict must end". "The whole of the UK is shocked by the bloodshed."

However, Sunak renewed continuous support for Israel, purportedly to defend their security.

 New truce talks

Months of stop-start ceasefire talks have made no headway since a week-long truce in November saw some captives exchanged for Palestinians detained by Israel.

In a new push in Cairo, CIA Director Bill Burns and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani will join Egyptian officials for indirect talks from Sunday between the Israeli and Hamas delegations, Egypt's Al-Qahera News said.

Hamas has confirmed that its core demands are a complete ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces -- conditions Israel has previously rejected.

Washington blames the failure so far on Hamas's refusal to release vulnerable captives, while Qatar has said Israeli objections to the return of displaced Gazans are the main obstacle.

Biden wrote to Egypt and Qatar's leader ahead of the talks urging them to secure commitments from Hamas to "agree to and abide by a deal", a senior administration official told AFP.

Biden's call with Netanyahu included discussions on "empowering his negotiators" to reach a deal, said US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.


Mass protests

Netanyahu has come under intense pressure at home from families and supporters of captives, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.

Ten of thousands rallied in Tel Aviv and other cities Saturday, demanding "elections now".

Among the protesters was Israel's centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid, who was later headed to Washington, his Yesh Atid party said.

Lapid was expected to meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

He will also meet Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who last month called for a snap Israeli election to give voters a chance to get rid of Netanyahu.

* This story has been edited by Ahram online.

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