Home International Fighting rages across Gaza amid revival of truce talks

Fighting rages across Gaza amid revival of truce talks

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Israeli strikes killed 77 Palestinians in Gaza in the past 24 hours, health authorities said on Sunday, as Egypt hosted an Israeli delegation for a new round of talks in a bid to secure a truce with Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Smoke rises over Gaza following an explosion, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel, March 27, 2024. Picture: Reuters, Ronen Zvulun

By Nidal Al-Mughrabi

CAIRO – Israeli strikes killed 77 Palestinians in Gaza in the past 24 hours, health authorities said on Sunday, as Egypt hosted an Israeli delegation for a new round of talks in a bid to secure a truce with Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

The Israeli military said it killed a senior Islamic Jihad militant in a strike on a command centre in the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Hospital in central Gaza. It did not mention his name or rank.

“The command centre and terrorists were struck precisely, the military said, adding it was intended to minimise “harm to uninvolved civilians in the area of the hospital”.

“The Al-Aqsa Hospital building was not damaged and its functioning was not affected.”

There was no immediate comment from Islamic Jihad, an ally of Hamas.

Palestinian health officials and Hamas media said the strike hit several tents inside the Al-Aqsa Hospital, killing four people and wounding several, including five journalists.

More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s military offensive in Gaza since Oct. 7, according to the health authorities. Health officials say most of the fatalities are civilians, while Israel says at least a third are fighters.

The war erupted after Hamas militants broke through the border and rampaged through communities in southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and abducting 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

The two sides have stepped up negotiations, mediated by Qatar and Egypt, on a six-week suspension of Israel’s offensive in return for the proposed release of 40 of 130 hostages still held by Hamas militants in Gaza after their October 7 attack.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Sunday to keep up military pressure on Hamas, while showing flexibility in the talks, saying that only that combination would bring about the release of hostages.

Hamas wants to parlay any deal into an end to the war and withdrawal of Israeli forces. Israel rules this out, saying it would eventually resume efforts to dismantle the governing and military capacities of Hamas, which is sworn to its destruction.

Hamas would not be present at the talks in Cairo, an official told Reuters on Sunday, as it waited to hear from mediators on whether a new Israeli offer was on the table.

The Gaza war has stoked long-simmering violence in the occupied West Bank, set off cross-border fighting with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and drawn missile launches against Israel from other Iranian-backed militias in Yemen and Iraq.

STABBINGS IN ISRAEL

In signs of spreading tensions within Israel, emergency services said a member of the country’s Arab minority stabbed three soldiers in a bus stop in the southern city of Beersheba on Sunday before one of them shot him dead. Hours later, a knife-wielding Palestinian was shot dead after wounding three people in a shopping mall in nearby Gan Yavne, Israeli media said.

In the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, Israeli forces continued to blockade the two main hospitals, and tanks shelled areas in the middle and eastern areas of the territory.

Palestinian health officials said an Israeli air strike killed nine people in Bani Suhaila near Khan Younis, while another air strike killed four people in Al-Maghazi camp in the central Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military said it killed 15 gunmen in the central Gaza Strip and several more in Khan Younis, including near Al-Amal hospital.

In Gaza City, Israeli forces continued to operate inside Al Shifa Hospital, the territory’s biggest, the health ministry said. Residents living nearby said residential districts had been destroyed by Israeli forces near Al Shifa.

“I went out looking to buy some medicine from a pharmacy and what I saw was heart-breaking. Complete streets with buildings that used to stand there had been destroyed,” said Abu Mustafa, 49.

“This is not war, this is genocide,” he told Reuters over the phone from Gaza City.

Facing fierce international pressure, Israel says it is doing all it can to minimize harm to civilians as it battles militants in an urban battlefield. Almost 260 soldiers have died in Gaza fighting, the military says.

Netanyahu said that around 200 gunmen have so far been killed at Al Shifa hospital and that hundreds more had surrendered.

“No hospital in the world looks like this. This is what a house of terrorists looks like,” Netanyahu said at a news conference in Jerusalem.

Hamas denies having a military presence at the hospital and its spokespeople have said those killed there were civilians.

The Israeli military said weapons were found at the hospital and that “several compounds used to launch anti-tank missiles and where snipers operated were struck by IAF aircraft” in the Rimal neighbourhood near Shifa. IAF is the acronym for the Israeli Air Force.

At Gaza City’s The Holy Family Church some Christian Palestinians took part in a sombre Easter service.

“My wish is that they leave us alone and that we go back to our lands and children,” said Winnie Tarazzi, a Gaza woman praying at the church.

Gaza’s population comprises an estimated 1,000 Christians, most of whom are Greek Orthodox.

In the truce talks, Hamas also wants hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were displaced from Gaza City and surrounding areas southward during the first stage of the war to be allowed back north.

The World Court on Thursday unanimously ordered Israel, accused by South Africa of genocide in Gaza, to take all necessary and effective action to ensure basic food supplies to the population.

– REUTERS

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