Israel hammers Gaza's south, captive families urge Netanyahu to seek deal

AFP , Monday 22 Jan 2024

The Israeli army bombarded Khan Yunis southern Gaza, on Monday as the families of Israeli captives urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reach a deal to secure their release.

Gaza
This photograph taken on January 22, 2024, from Rafah, shows smoke billowing during Israeli bombardment over Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP

 

Witnesses reported deadly strikes overnight in Khan Yunis, the largest city in southern Gaza, and fierce fighting between Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters.

Violence has also surged in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

'Necessary step'

Hamas said in its first public report on the Al-Aqsa Flood operation that there had been "some faults" on its part but also called for an end to Israeli aggression in Gaza.

The Al-Aqsa Flood operation was a "necessary step" against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and a way to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners, it said in its 16-page report.

It said the United States, Qatar and Egypt, the countries that mediated a truce in November, were trying to convince Israel and Hamas to approve a plan that would free all the captives in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Netanyahu has maintained that Israel must retain security control after the war and has rejected the possibility of "Palestinian sovereignty".

Major allies the United States and others have recommended that a two-state solution was the only way to solve the conflict.

'Bring hostages back' 

Netanyahu is also under intense pressure to secure the return of the captives and account for security failings surrounding the October 7 operation.

Relatives and supporters of the captives again rallied near Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence in Jerusalem on Sunday night for their return.

"We are asking our government to listen, to sit down at the negotiating table and decide whether to accept this agreement or any other that would suit Israel," said Gilad Korenbloom, whose son is a captive in Gaza.

John Polin, also the father of a captive, said Israelis serve their country and in return "we expect the government to ensure our safety".

"We are asking the government to play its part, to propose an agreement, to bring it to a successful conclusion and to bring the remaining hostages back alive," Polin said.

Netanyahu said in a video statement released after the Hamas report that, in exchange for the release of Israeli captives, Hamas was demanding an end to the war, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, the release of Palestinian prisoners and guarantees that Hamas would stay in power.

"If we accept this, our soldiers have fallen in vain," and security would not be guaranteed, he said.

French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu was to meet families of captives on Monday, before holding talks with Netanyahu and his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant.

Humanitarian crisis 

UN agencies have warned of famine and disease as Gazans, 1.7 million of whom are displaced, struggle with shortages of water, medical care and other essentials during daily bombardment.

On Sunday, 260 humanitarian aid trucks were transferred to Gaza, according to COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, well below pre-war levels.

Hamas's Qatar-based chief Ismail Haniyeh had met Turkey's foreign minister to discuss the conflict and humanitarian aid, diplomatic sources said on Sunday.

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