Home International No breakthrough in Gaza talks dents hopes of Palestinians in Rafah

No breakthrough in Gaza talks dents hopes of Palestinians in Rafah

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Palestinians jammed into their last refuge in Gaza voiced growing fear on Wednesday that Israel will soon launch a planned assault on the southern city of Rafah after truce talks in Cairo ended inconclusively.

A soldier stands atop an artillery unit, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, near the Israel-Gaza border, Israel, February 14, 2024. Picture: Reuters, Dylan Martinez

By Nidal Al-Mughrabi

CAIRO – Palestinians jammed into their last refuge in Gaza voiced growing fear on Wednesday that Israel will soon launch a planned assault on the southern city of Rafah after truce talks in Cairo ended inconclusively.

The talks in the Egyptian capital, involving the United States, Israel, Egypt and Qatar, ended without any sign of a breakthrough on Tuesday and no date was announced for the next meeting.

The lack of agreement dealt a new blow to the more than one million Palestinians crammed into Rafah, next to the border with Egypt, where many are living in tent camps and makeshift shelters after fleeing Israeli bombardments elsewhere in Gaza.

The Israeli military says it wants to flush out Islamist militants from hideouts in Rafah and free hostages being held there after the Hamas rampage in Israel on October 7, but has given no details of a proposed plan to evacuate civilians.

“The news was disappointing, we hoped there could be a deal reached in Cairo. We are now counting down the days before Israel sends in tanks. We hope they don’t but who can prevent them?” Said Jaber, a Gaza businessman who is sheltering in Rafah with his family, told Reuters via a chat app.

In the latest international plea for Israel to hold off on an assault on Rafah, the World Health Organization warned of the danger of pushing Gaza’s health system closer to collapse.

“Military activities in …this densely populated area, would be, of course, an unfathomable catastrophe… and would even further expand the humanitarian disaster beyond imagination,” said Richard Peeperkorn, WHO representative for Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel says it takes steps to minimise civilian casualties and accuses Hamas fighters of hiding among civilians, including in hospitals and shelters – something the militant group denies.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said an offensive on Rafah would jeopardise the humanitarian situation there.

“Because the people in Rafah cannot simply vanish into thin air. They need safe places and safe corridors to avoid being caught in the crossfire even more,” she said before talks scheduled with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

OVERNIGHT SHELLING

Israeli forces shelled eastern areas of Rafa overnight, and pounded several areas of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, residents said.

The health ministry in the Hamas-governed enclave said Israeli forces were continuing to isolate the two main hospitals in Khan Younis, and that sniper fire at the city’s Nasser Hospital had killed and wounded many people in recent days.

Speaking in a video from inside Nasser Hospital, one doctor said the facility had been under siege by Israeli forces for 22 days and that bulldozers protected by tanks had knocked down the hospital’s northern gate.

“It is dreadful, food is in short supply,” Dr Haitham Ahmed said in the video, which Reuters could not immediately verify.

Rafah neighbours Egypt, but Cairo has made clear it will not allow a refugee exodus over the border.

At least 28,576 Palestinians have been killed and 68,291 injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since Oct.7, the health ministry in Gaza said on Wednesday.

In the last 24 hours, 103 Palestinians were killed and 145 injured, it said.

Many other people are believed to be buried under rubble of destroyed buildings across the densely populated Gaza Strip, much of which is in ruins. Supplies of food, water and other essentials are running out and diseases are spreading.

At least 1,200 Israelis were killed and around 250 were taken hostage in the Hamas raid on southern Israel on October 7, according to Israeli tallies.

ERDOGAN VISITS EGYPT

The war in Gaza has raised fears of conflict spreading across the Middle East, and heightened tension along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

Israel’s military said on Wednesday it had responded to cross-border rocket fire from Lebanon that injured seven people in northern Israel. A security source in Lebanon said Israeli strikes had already hit at least three towns in southern Lebanon, but gave no details of any damage or casualties. The Lebanese armed group Hezbollah offered no immediate comment

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was set to discuss the war on his first visit to Egypt in over a decade on Wednesday.

He began his visit one day after Egypt’s president met CIA Director William Burns and Qatar’s prime minister at the talks in Cairo which Egypt’s state information service said were aimed at agreeing a truce, protecting civilians and delivering more aid into Gaza.

It said in a statement that there was a “keenness to continue consultation and co-ordination” on the main issues, indicating that no breakthrough was made.

The statement made no mention of Israel. The Israeli delegation left Cairo for home, a Reuters reporter said. Netanyahu’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

A source briefed on the talks described them as “good” and said the sides had agreed to continue them, but declined to say where or when.

A Palestinian official said Egypt and Qatar would continue talking to the warring sides separately and urged Israel to soften its stance.

Israel has vowed to fight on until it eradicates Hamas and has made the return of the last hostages a priority. Hamas says Israel must commit to ending the war and withdrawing from Gaza.

– REUTERS

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