Israel kills 26 Palestinians ahead of US's Blinken visit

AP , Tuesday 30 Apr 2024

Israeli airstrikes killed 26 people in Gaza’s southernmost town of Rafah, while the United States stepped up pressure for a cease-fire deal in Gaza as the secretary of state said a new proposal had been put to Hamas.

People gather around the rescued bodies of victims who were killed following Israeli bombardment in
People gather around the rescued bodies of victims who were killed following Israeli bombardment in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on April 29, 2024, amid the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza. AFP


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, ahead of a visit to Israel this week, urged Hamas to accept the latest proposal, calling it “extraordinarily generous” on Israel's part.

But a Hamas official said there’s nothing “generous” about halting attacks that have killed tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians, mostly children and women.

“The attack itself is a crime so when you stop a crime you can’t claim that it’s a generous action from the Israeli side,” Hamas’s Osama Hamdan told Al Jazeera.

The terms were not made public. But according to an Egyptian official and Israeli media, Israel has softened its position, lowering the number of captives it demands that Hamas free during the initial six-week phase of the cease-fire in return for the release of hundreds of Palestinians from Israeli prisons.

One question is whether that will overcome Hamas's concerns over the cease-fire's second phase.

Hamas has demanded assurances that an eventual release of all captives will bring a complete end to Israel’s nearly seven-month assault in Gaza and a withdrawal of its troops from the devastated territory.

Israel has offered only an extended pause, vowing to resume its offensive once it is over. The issue has repeatedly obstructed efforts by U.S., Egyptian and Qatari mediators during months of talks.

Some Israeli commentators depicted Israel as at a crossroads: Go for a deal with a potential end to the war, bringing benefits that could include normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia, or push ahead with plans including an attack on Rafah and risk international isolation.


More killing

Israel's closest ally, the United States, and others have repeatedly warned against an offensive on Rafah, saying it would bring a surge in casualties and worsen a humanitarian catastrophe. More than 1,3 million Palestinians have sought shelter in Rafah after fleeing fighting elsewhere.

Israel's offensive in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 people, mostly women and children, according to the Health Ministry.

The war has driven around 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million from their homes and pushed northern Gaza to the brink of famine.

Overnight and Monday morning, Israeli strikes flattened at least three homes where extended families of Palestinians were gathered. The dead included nine women and six children, one of them just five days old, according to hospital records and an Associated Press reporter.

“Everyone was sleeping in their beds," said Mahmoud Abu Taha, whose cousin was killed with his wife and their year-old baby in a house where at least 10 died. “They have nothing to do with anything.”

Egypt has stepped up mediation efforts for a cease-fire deal in hopes of averting an assault on Rafah, on Gaza's border with Egypt.

An Egyptian official said Israel has lowered the number of captives it wants to be freed in the first stage, down from earlier demands for 40.

He did not specify the new number. Israeli media said it now seeks the release of 33 captives in return for the release of some 900 Palestinian prisoners.

Israel would also allow residents to return to northern Gaza, the Egyptian official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal talks.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas or Israeli officials.

Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected stopping the war in return for captives releases and says an offensive on Rafah is crucial to destroying the Palestinian resistance after their Oct. 7 operation. His government could be threatened if he agrees to a deal since hardline Cabinet members demand an attack on Rafah.

At the same time, Netanyahu faces pressure to reach a deal with the families of captives.


Fear of ICC

Israeli officials, meanwhile, appeared increasingly concerned that the International Criminal Court may issue arrest warrants against the country’s leaders.

It was not clear what sparked the concerns. The ICC launched a probe three years ago into possible war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinian militants going back to the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza. The probe is also looking at Israel’s construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

There was no comment from the court on Monday, and it has given no indication warrants in the case are imminent.

But Israel’s Foreign Ministry said late Sunday that it had informed Israeli missions of “rumours” that warrants might be issued against senior political and military officials. Netanyahu said Friday that Israel “will never accept any attempt by the ICC to undermine its inherent right of self-defence.”

Neither Israel nor the United States accept the ICC’s jurisdiction, but any warrants could put Israeli officials at risk of arrest in other countries. They would also serve as a major rebuke of Israel’s actions at a time when pro-Palestinian protests have spread across U.S. college campuses.

The United States said Monday it opposed the ICC investigation into Israel's conduct in Gaza.

The US Congress threatened the ICC that arrest warrants for senior Israeli officials will be met with U.S. retaliation — and legislation to that effect is already in the works, Axios reported.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul told Axios he expects a House bill to sanction ICC officials involved in investigating the U.S. and its allies.

Diplomats from the G7 industrialised nations have warned officials at the international criminal court not to announce war crimes charges against Israel, claiming that such a move could disrupt the chances of a breakthrough in ceasefire talks.

The International Court of Justice, a separate body, is investigating whether Israel has committed acts of genocide in the ongoing war in Gaza, with any ruling expected to take years. Israel has rejected allegations of wrongdoing and accused both international courts of bias.

* This story has been edited by Ahram Online.

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