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16 Palestinians killed in Israeli air strikes in Rafah

Three Jewish soldiers killed in Gaza crossing rocket attack: Hamas, Israel entrench truce positions

By AFP

May 6, 2024 08:13 AM


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Medics and first responders in Gaza said 16 people were killed in Israeli air strikes in the southern city of Rafah Sunday, hours after Hamas rockets had killed three Israeli soldiers earlier in the day.

"The toll of martyrs in Rafah reached 16," emergency first responders told AFP, adding that seven people from one family and nine from another were killed.

Medical sources confirmed two strikes they said took place at two different locations around the city.

3 Jewish soldiers killed in Gaza crossing rocket attack

Israel's military said a barrage of rockets fired earlier Sunday from the besieged Gaza Strip towards the Kerem Shalom border crossing had killed three soldiers and wounded a dozen others.

Three of the 12 wounded were in serious condition, the military told AFP.

The armed wing of Palestinian militant group Hamas earlier claimed the rocket attack, which led Israeli authorities to close the crossing, used to deliver aid into Gaza.

The military said 14 rockets were fired at the crossing from an area adjacent to the Rafah crossing.

In response, the air force carried out a rapid response and destroyed the launchers from which the projectiles were fired, military spokesman Peter Lerner told journalists in an online briefing.

"It's a very serious event from our perspective, it's unacceptable, and the IDF (army) is investigating why the soldiers were killed as the siren was sounding," he said.

The army was "not aware of any interception that took place" during the incoming fire, he said.

"The airforce will look into exactly what happened," Lerner added.

The soldiers were hit while guarding heavy machinery, tanks and bulldozers that are stationed in the area.

Hamas, Israel entrench Gaza truce positions

Efforts aimed at securing an elusive truce in exchange for hostages held in Gaza were due to resume Monday as disagreement between Israel and Hamas over demands to end the seven-month war intensified.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that "surrendering" to a demand to end the war would amount to defeat, while Qatar-based Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh accused Netanyahu of sabotaging the talks.

Negotiations were due to continue Monday in Qatar, where CIA director Bill Burns was expected for "emergency" talks on mediation efforts with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, a source with knowledge of the discussions told AFP.

A Hamas official said Sunday the group's delegation for Gaza truce talks was headed to Doha for "consultations" after the last round of talks in Cairo failed to produce a breakthrough.

Hamas negotiators are then due back in Cairo on Tuesday, said Al-Qahera News, a site linked to Egyptian intelligence services.

In Rafah in southern Gaza, where about 1.2 million Palestinians have sought shelter, medics and first responders said 16 people were killed Sunday in Israeli air strikes, hours after Hamas rockets had killed three Israeli soldiers.

Residents of the southern Gaza city told AFP they feared an upsurge in violence if truce talks collapse.

Naja Shaat, 59, said she was "extremely joyful" when she thought a ceasefire was imminent, "but today... we are on pins and needles".

Gaza's bloodiest-ever war began following Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also seized some 250 hostages.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,683 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

- 'Lost hope' -

The Palestinian civilian toll has strained ties between Israel and its main military supplier and ally the United States.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that "the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire is Hamas".

Negotiators met in Cairo Sunday without an Israeli delegation present.

Qatari, Egyptian and US mediators had proposed a 40-day pause in the fighting and an exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners, according to details released by Britain.

Any truce reached would be the first since a week-long November ceasefire saw a hostage-prisoner swap.

Netanyahu, whose coalition includes ultra-nationalist parties, faces regular protests demanding a deal to bring the hostages home.

Demonstrators, some carrying posters with images of the captives, gathered in Tel Aviv on Sunday, as Israel marked national Holocaust Remembrance Day.

According to a statement from Netanyahu's office, he told his cabinet Israel would not let Hamas "take control of Gaza again, rebuild their military infrastructure and return to threaten the citizens of Israel".

"Israel will not agree to Hamas's demands, which mean surrender, and will continue the fighting until all its goals are achieved," he added.

Haniyeh said Netanyahu wanted to "invent constant justifications for the continuation of aggression, expanding the circle of conflict, and sabotaging efforts made through various mediators and parties".

- 'Expect an escalation' -

Previous negotiation efforts had stalled in part because of Hamas's demand for a lasting ceasefire and Netanyahu's vows to crush its remaining fighters in Rafah.

Hamas in a statement insisted it maintained a "positive and responsible approach" and said it was determined to reach an agreement.

The statement mentioned that Hamas's key demands include "a complete end" to the fighting, Israeli withdrawal "from the entire Gaza Strip, the facilitation of the return of displaced people, the intensification of relief efforts", reconstruction efforts and a prisoner-hostage exchange deal.

Netanyahu has vowed to invade Rafah regardless of any truce, and despite concerns from the United States, other countries and aid groups.

At the start of the war, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said his country would impose a "complete siege" blocking food, water and other supplies.

Continuous appeals for greater access have, according to the UN, led to some improvements recently.

Israel in December reopened the southern Kerem Shalom border crossing for aid, but on Sunday the army said it was targeted with projectiles and "closed to the passage of humanitarian aid trucks".

Hamas's armed wing claimed the rocket fire, saying militants had targeted troops.

The army later announced three soldiers were killed in the attack and 12 were wounded, three seriously.

An AFP correspondent and witnesses reported shelling and gunfire in Gaza City Sunday, and helicopter fire in central and southern Gaza. The Israeli military later said it struck a Hamas "command and control position" in central Gaza.

Arwa Saqr, displaced from the southern city of Khan Yunis, said she has "lost hope that the negotiations will succeed".

In Rafah, where the army said the rockets were launched from, 35-year-old Mohammed Al-Najjar said: "I expect an escalation."

- Al Jazeera -

Netanyahu on Sunday also announced a government decision to close operations in Israel of Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera, which has broadcast round-the-clock coverage of the conflict.

It went off-air a short time later.

The network condemned Israel's decision as a "criminal act", and said it would take legal action.

The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, which has been central to humanitarian operations in Gaza during the war, said Sunday that Israeli authorities had barred him from entering Gaza for a second time since the war began.

In a post on X, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini also called for an "independent investigation" into the rockets fired at Kerem Shalom.

Israel estimates 128 hostages abducted on October 7 remain in Gaza, including 35 who the military says are dead.

On Sunday the Hostages and Missing Families Forum appealed to Netanyahu, telling him in a statement to "disregard all political pressure", with some far-right members of the government opposing a truce and calling for fighting to continue.

Netanyahu says nothing will stop Israel from defending itself

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday denounced a "volcano of anti-Semitism" and international criticism of Israel's war in Gaza, insisting that no pressure would stop it from defending itself.

"If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone," Netanyahu said.

Speaking at a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, he lamented that when the Nazis killed six million Jews during World War II, his people "were totally defenceless against those who sought our destruction.

"No nation came to our aid," he said as the Israeli flag billowed at half mast and survivors of the Holocaust prepared to light torches.

"Today, we again confront enemies bent on our destruction," Netanyahu told the large crowd gathered for the ceremony.

One yellow chair sat empty representing the hostages still held captive by Hamas in Gaza.

"I say to the leaders of the world, no amount of pressure, no decision by any international forum, will stop Israel from defending itself."

He lamented the surge of criticism seen around the world against Israel over its war in Gaza, ignited after Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack.

And he denounced "this terrible volcano of anti-Semitism" that he said was surging around the world.

Netanyahu also compared the protests seen at universities across the United States and around the world to the discrimination against Jews at German universities during World War II.

"What a distortion of justice and history," he said.

The criticism, he said, was not "due to the actions that we do, but because we exist... because we are Jews.

"You will not chain our hands... Israel will continue to fight human evil... until victory," he said.

"We will defeat our genocidal enemies. Never again is now!"

Gaza's bloodiest-ever war began following Hamas's attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also seized some 250 hostages during the attack. Israel estimates 128 are still held captive in Gaza, including 35 the army says are dead.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,683 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.


AFP


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