Gaza fighting rages despite latest truce efforts

AFP , Saturday 13 May 2023

Israeli air strikes battered Gaza and militants fired rockets again on Saturday, as deadly fighting resumed after a night of relative calm despite efforts to secure a truce.

Smoke rises behind buildings in Gaza city during an Israeli air strike on May 13, 2023. AFP


A Palestinian source said a new ceasefire proposal was circulated late Friday by Egypt, which has been mediating between the two sides, after a previous bid fell through.

Israel's anti-aircraft defences went into action Saturday after a barrage of rocket fire from Gaza during the funeral of Islamic Jihad military commander Iyad al-Hassani, who was killed the previous day in an Israel strike, AFP reporters said.

The Islamic Jihad said its fighters were pursuing "missile strikes on Israeli cities" in revenge for Israeli "assassinations" of their commanders and strikes on inhabited regions.

Palestinians in the crowded Gaza Strip sheltered indoors as the fighting raged, with streets empty and only a few shops and pharmacies open.

The exchange of fire came after the Palestinian health ministry reported the death of two men aged 19 and 32 in an Israeli army raid on a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus.

The Israeli army claims it was a "counterterrorism" operation targeting operatives who had been planning attacks on soldiers.

"Armed gunmen fired at the forces, who responded with riot dispersal means and live fire," the army claimed. "Two of the terrorists were targeted."

The Fatah movement said the two men killed in the raid were members of a closely affiliated armed wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

"Honourable agreement"

The current bout of violence erupted on Tuesday when Israeli strikes on Gaza killed at least 13 Palestinians, including four children and four women, and left 20 others injured, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Israel says the attacks targeted three leading Islamic Jihad members. Three other senior figures from the Palestinian militant group were killed in later strikes.

They are among at least 33 Palestinian lives lost in the fighting, the health ministry added, including children.

There has been one fatality on Israeli territory: an elderly woman who rescue services said was killed on Thursday night when a rocket struck the central city of Rehovot.

On Saturday, sirens warning of incoming fire sounded throughout the day in Israeli communities close to the border with Gaza.

Egypt, a historic mediator between Israel and Gaza's factions, has been working on bringing an end to the fighting, the worst in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since an August flare-up that killed nearly 50 Palestinians.

A Palestinian source on Friday said Gaza factions were studying Cairo's new ceasefire formula, while Israeli public television said an "improved" truce proposal had been handed to Israel.

There had been cautious optimism a truce may be nearing, but an Islamic Jihad source said Israel was "disrupting Egypt's efforts for a ceasefire," while the United States on its part urged steps be "taken to ensure that violence is reduced".

 Islamic Jihad said it had been seeking "an honourable agreement that reflects the interests of the Palestinian people and the resistance".

Civilian lives

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, in a call to Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer, "stressed the urgency of reaching a ceasefire agreement in order to prevent any further loss of civilian life", the State Department said.

Morocco, which normalised relations with Israel in 2020, said it "firmly condemns recent Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, which have left numerous casualties among innocent civilians".

Gaza, a coastal enclave with a population of about 2.3 Palestinians, has been plagued by poverty and unemployment since a blockade imposed by Israel in 2007 when the Palestinian movement Hamas took over.

The territory has since been the site of numerous wars between militant groups and Israel, including the fighting in August 2022 in which 19 children were among the 49 killed, according to the United Nations.

The conflict has escalated since veteran leader Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power late last year, heading a coalition with extreme right and ultra-Orthodox parties.

The army said nearly 1,100 rockets had been fired from Gaza towards Israel in the current fighting, including 300 intercepted by its air defences.

Israelis living in areas bordering the Palestinian territory have been told to stay close to bomb shelters.

Israel has also been shaken by its biggest domestic political crisis in decades, as mass protests have flared against plans to reform the justice system that have been spearheaded by Netanyahu, who is also battling corruption charges in court.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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