Diplomatic push for Gaza war ceasefire intensifies

AFP , Tuesday 5 Mar 2024

International mediators and Hamas delegates were in Cairo Tuesday for talks to try to secure a pause in the Israeli war on Gaza ahead of the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

A Palestinian vendor waits for customers in front of a building destroyed by Israeli bombardment in
A Palestinian vendor waits for customers in front of a building destroyed by Israeli bombardment in Gaza City on March 3, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. AFP


Envoys from the Palestinian resistance group and the United States were expected to meet with Qatari and Egyptian mediators for a third day of negotiations over a six-week truce, the exchange of dozens of remaining captives for hundreds of Palestinian detainees, and the flow of aid to Gaza.

Israeli delegates have so far stayed away from the negotiations, despite growing diplomatic pressure for a truce before Ramadan early next week.

Israeli media reported that the country's mediators boycotted the talks after Hamas refused to provide a list of living captives.

Senior Hamas leader Bassem Naim told AFP however, that details on the prisoners "were not mentioned in any documents or proposals circulated during the negotiation process".

Israel has said it believes 130 of the 250 captives taken in the October Al-Aqsa Flood operation that triggered the war remain in Gaza, but that 31 have been killed.

As conditions in the besieged Gaza Strip deteriorate and the specter of famine looms, Israel is facing increasingly sharp rebuke from its top ally the United States.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday called for an “immediate cease-fire” in Gaza, saying that parties should agree to the six-week pause currently on the table and that Israel should increase the flow of aid into the besieged enclave amid a humanitarian crisis.

Harris assailed the dire conditions in Gaza, calling the situation a “humanitarian catastrophe.” It was her most forceful assessment to date of the Israeli war.

“What we are seeing every day in Gaza is devastating,” Harris said. “We have seen reports of families eating leaves or animal feed. Women giving birth to malnourished babies with little or no medical care. And children dying from malnutrition and dehydration. As I have said many times, too many innocent Palestinians have been killed.”

“And given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate cease-fire, for at least the next six weeks.”

She again expressed "deep concern about the humanitarian conditions in Gaza" during talks in Washington on Monday with Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz.

The same day, the World Health Organization said an aid mission to two hospitals in northern Gaza had found horrifying scenes of children dying of starvation, amid dire shortages of food, fuel, and medicines.

"The lack of food resulted in the deaths of 10 children," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus after the agency visited the Al-Awda and Kamal Adwan hospitals over the weekend.

In Gaza's main southern city Khan Yunis, which has seen heavy fighting, people described finding decomposing bodies lying in streets lined with destroyed homes and shops.

"We want to eat and live. Take a look at our homes. How am I to blame, a single, unarmed person without any income in this impoverished country?" said Nader Abu Shanab, pointing to the rubble with blackened hands.


UN tensions

Israel has killed at least 30,534 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly women and children, since the war star.

Tensions between Israel and the United Nations erupted Monday, with Israel recalling its ambassador over the handling of allegations of sexual assault by Hamas militants during the October operation.

Israel has accused the United Nations of taking too long to respond to the claims, as the body published a report on Monday that claimed there were "grounds to believe "rapes were committed", and that captives taken to Gaza have also been raped.

Shortly before the report's release, Israel said it was recalling its UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan over what it said was an attempt by the body to "silence" information of sexual violence by Hamas.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's spokesman denied trying to suppress the report.

Israel previously claimed a dozen employees of the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) of involvement in the operation, yet was unable to provide such evidence.

UNRWA is at the center of efforts to provide humanitarian relief in Gaza, where aid groups warn of looming famine after nearly five months of a brutal Israeli war on the Palestinian territory.

UNRWA on Monday said members of its staff had been tortured by Israel's army.


Lebanon strikes

The war has sparked violence across the region, including near-daily exchanges of fire between Israeli forces and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.

"A diplomatic solution is the only way to end the current hostilities" and achieve "a lasting fair security arrangement between Lebanon and Israel", US envoy Amos Hochstein told reporters in Beirut on Monday, adding that "a temporary ceasefire is not enough".

"A limited war is not containable," he said after meeting with parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally.

On Monday, a foreign worker in northern Israel was killed and seven Indian workers were wounded in a missile strike near the Lebanese border, Israel said.

Israel's army said late Monday it had carried out strikes on southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah said three paramedics affiliated with the group had been killed in an Israeli strike.

Yemen's Houthi rebels, who since November have fired drones and missiles at numerous ships in the Red Sea area vital for world trade, claimed responsibility for another strike.

Their claim came after marine security firm Ambrey reported a Liberian-flagged vessel was targeted and reportedly struck off Yemen.

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