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China calls for Gaza peace conference; Hamas to disclose fate of Israeli hostages

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China called for a large-scale and authoritative peace conference on the war in Gaza, while the militant group Hamas aired video footage of three Israeli hostages, including one who is half-Chinese, and said their fate would be disclosed on Monday.

People hold posters depicting Israeli hostages in Gaza during the event “100 days 100 voices” to mark 100 days since the October 7 Hamas attack, calling for their release, in front of the Opera Bastille in Paris, France, January 14, 2024. Picture: Reuters, Gonzalo Feuntes

By Fadi Shana and Dan Williams

GAZA/JERUSALEM – China called for a large-scale and authoritative peace conference on the war in Gaza, while the militant group Hamas aired video of three Israeli hostages, including one who is half-Chinese, and said their fate would be disclosed on Monday.

Speaking in Egypt at the weekend, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for “the formulation of a specific timetable and road map for the implementation of the ‘two-state solution’ and support for the prompt resumption of Israel-Palestinian peace talks”.

A hundred days have passed since the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, which prompted a fierce assault on Gaza by Israeli forces.

Wang, currently travelling through Egypt, Tunisia, Togo and the Ivory Coast, said last week that President Xi Jinping had “in-depth communication” with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Iran. China’s top diplomat has also held talks with the Secretary-General of the Arab League and expressed concerns over the Red Sea, Xinhua reported.

On Sunday, Hamas aired video showing three Israeli hostages it is holding in Gaza and urged the Israeli government to stop the offensive against the Palestinian Islamist group and bring about their release.

The undated 37-second video of Noa Argamani, 26, Yossi Sharabi, 53, and Itai Svirsky, 38, ended with the caption: “Tomorrow (Monday) we will inform you of their fate.”

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in parliament he had asked Beijing to help free Argamani, whose mother Liora is Chinese. Suffering from a terminal illness, Liora Argamani has appealed to be reunited with her daughter before she dies.

Of some 240 people seized by Hamas in the cross-border killing spree, around half were released in a November truce. Israel says 132 remain in Gaza and that 25 of them have died in captivity.

Israel also says more than 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’ October 7 assault.

The Gaza health ministry has said almost 24,000 people have been killed in the Israeli offensive that followed with more than 60,000 wounded.

With fears growing of a wider conflict in the Middle East, the US military said on Sunday its fighter aircraft shot down an anti-ship cruise missile fired from Houthi militant areas of Yemen toward a US destroyer operating in the Southern Red Sea.

The mid-air interception is the latest incident in the Red Sea where the Houthis have been attacking international shipping in what they say is a campaign to support Palestinians under siege from Israeli forces in Gaza.

It follows a series of American and British airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen last week that have drawn threats of a “strong” response from the Iranian-backed militia.

In the latest fighting in Gaza, the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Press Agency SAFA reported on Monday that Israeli aircraft and artillery were bombarding the Khan Younis area in the southern part of the enclave.

In a statement, the Israeli military said it killed two Palestinian fighters in an air strike on their vehicle which was transporting weapons in southern Khan Younis, and also raided a Hamas command centre in the city and attacked two arms caches.

Hamas launched a fresh salvo of rockets on Sunday at Ashdod, an Israeli town 40km away. There was no word of any casualties.

The Israeli military said on Sunday it destroyed several silos used by Hamas to fire missiles at Israel.

NEW PHASE OF WAR

The Israeli military says it has shifted to a new phase of the war focused on the southern end of Gaza, where almost two million people are now sheltering in tents and other temporary accommodation, after the initial phase centred on clearing the northern end of the strip, including Gaza City.

Netanyahu has brushed off calls for a ceasefire, saying Israel will keep going until it achieves complete victory over Hamas and recovers the remaining hostages.

The military says, though, the next phase of the war will see months of more targeted operations against the Iranian-backed movement’s leaders and positions.

On Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where there has been a constant, low-level exchange of fire between Israeli troops and the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia, Israel’s military said it had killed four militants trying to cross the border.

It said several anti-tank missiles were fired into northern Israel, one which hit a house in Kfar Yuval village. Medical officials said a 76-year-old woman and her son were killed. The son was in the village’s security squad, the military said.

The war in Gaza has also triggered violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Palestinian health officials said Israeli forces killed five Palestinians, including boys aged 14, 16 and 17, in three separate incidents there.

The Israeli military said two Palestinians in a car rammed through one of its checkpoints near Hebron and opened fire on pursuing troops. They were killed by return fire, it said.

Asked about a 14-year-old boy killed near Jericho, it said soldiers had shot at Palestinians who threw explosives at them.

The Israeli military also said troops shot two Palestinians throwing a bomb at an army base.

– REUTERS

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