Israeli officials to meet with Paris team after talks with mediators on Gaza ceasefire

AP , Saturday 24 Feb 2024

High-ranking Israeli Cabinet members were expected to meet Saturday with a delegation that returned from talks in Paris with negotiators from the United States, Egypt, and Qatar in search of a deal on pausing the fighting in Gaza, an Israeli official said.

David Barnea   Ronen Bar
Combined images of ( from L to R)Mossad Director David Barnea, and Director of the Israeli Security Agency (Shabak) Ronen Bar. Al-Ahram


The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, asserted that Hamas had relented on some demands, but gave no details.

A senior official from Egypt, which along with Qatar is a mediator between Israel and Hamas, said the draft deal offered to Israel’s delegation included the release of up to 40 women and older hostages held in Gaza in return for up to 300 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, mostly women, minors and older people.

The Egyptian official said the proposed six-week pause in fighting would include allowing hundreds of aid trucks to enter Gaza every day, including the northern half of the besieged territory.

He said that both sides agreed to continue negotiations during the pause for further releases and a permanent cease-fire.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing negotiations, said that mediators were waiting for Israel’s official response.

Negotiators face an unofficial deadline of the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan around March 10.

Hamas political official Osama Hamdan noted that the group wasn't at the talks, but asserted to reporters in Beirut on Friday that Israel had refused its main demands, including stopping the “aggression” and withdrawing from the Gaza Strip.

The Health Ministry in Gaza said Saturday that the bodies of 92 Palestinians killed in Israeli bombardments were brought to hospitals over the past 24 hours, raising the overall toll in nearly five months of war to 29,606 killed and 70,000 wounded - two-thirds of whom are women and children.

An Israeli airstrike hit a house in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, killing at least eight people. including four women and a child, health authorities said. An Associated Press journalist saw the bodies at Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital.

“Enough, enough. Either the Israelis or we should stop. There should be a truce,” said neighbour Abdul-Qader Shubeir, who described feeling lost at not being immediately able to put out the fire burning the bodies.

New genocide allegations

Brazil’s president alleged Saturday that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians, doubling down on harsh rhetoric after stirring controversy a week ago by comparing Israel’s military offensive in Gaza to the Nazi Holocaust in which 6 million Jews and others perished during World War II.

“What the Israeli government is doing is not war, it is genocide,” Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Children and women are being murdered.”

In response to Lula’s initial comments, Israel declared him a persona non grata, summoned Brazil’s ambassador, and demanded an apology. Lula recalled Brazil’s ambassador to Israel for consultations.

Last month, South Africa filed a landmark case with the International Court of Justice, accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians. The court issued a preliminary order ordering Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction, and any acts of genocide in Gaza.

South Africa has compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza with the treatment of Black South Africans during apartheid, framing the issues as fundamentally about people oppressed in their homeland.

Hunger and diseases spread

The rising civilian death toll and worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza have amplified calls for a cease-fire.

Hunger and infectious diseases are spreading and about 80% of Gaza's 2.3 million people have been displaced, with about 1.4 million crowded into Rafah on the border with Egypt.

“There are choking, skyrocketing prices. It’s terrifying. There is no source of income. The area is very overcrowded," said Hassan Attwa, a displaced man from Gaza City who now shelters in a tent on the sand in Mawasi in the south.

"The garbage, may God bless you, is not collected at all. It stays piled up. It turns into a mess and clay when it rains. The situation is disastrous in every sense of the word.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to fight until “total victory," but is under pressure at home to secure the release of the remaining captives.

More settlements planned 

Meanwhile, Netanyahu and his conservative government drew an angry response from the United States, its closest ally, over plans to build more than 3,300 new homes in settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu's firebrand finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, has said the plans were in response to a Palestinian shooting attack earlier in the week that killed one Israeli and wounded five.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that he was “disappointed” to hear of the Israeli announcement and called new settlements “counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace” and "inconsistent with international law."

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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