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Hamas gives initial support to Gaza truce plan as fighting rages

By AFP

February 2, 2024 07:47 PM


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Fighting in Gaza raged on Friday with scores reported killed overnight, after mediator Qatar said Hamas had given its "initial" support to a hostage-prisoner exchange deal that would pause its war with Israel.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run territory said 112 people had been killed over the previous 24 hours, while the Hamas press office reported Israeli air and artillery bombardment around Khan Yunis -- southern Gaza's main city and the focus of recent fighting.

Gaza City resident Abir al-Madhun said leaflets calling on civilians to leave had again been dropped by Israeli aircraft over the Al-Shifa Hospital compound where she has sought refuge.

"Our houses were destroyed; our children were killed. Where should we go?" she asked. "The shooting must stop so we can find a place to live."

Nearly four months of fighting have left Gaza "uninhabitable", the United Nations says, while an Israeli siege has resulted in dire shortages of food, water, fuel and medicines.

Winter storms brought torrential rain to Gaza Friday, piling more misery on the hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians who have sought shelter in bombed out buildings and makeshift camps.

The humanitarian crisis and the mounting civilian death toll have triggered growing international calls for a ceasefire.

After a truce proposal agreed with Israeli negotiators was presented to Hamas on Thursday, Qatar's foreign ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari said there were hopes of "good news" about a fresh pause to the fighting "in the next couple of weeks".

Ansari said a truce plan thrashed out with Israeli negotiators by Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators in Paris earlier this week had received a "positive" initial response from Hamas.

"That proposal has been approved by the Israeli side and now we have an initial positive confirmation from the Hamas side," he said.

But a source close to Hamas told AFP: "There is no agreement on the framework of the agreement yet -- the factions have important observations -- and the Qatari statement is rushed and not true."

A Hamas source said the group had been presented with a three-stage plan which would start with an initial six-week halt to the fighting that would see more aid deliveries into Gaza.

The pause would also see the release of "women, children and sick men over 60" among the Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israel, the source said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

A deal 'right now' 

The war in Gaza was triggered by Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Militants also seized about 250 hostages, and Israel says 132 remain in Gaza, including at least 27 believed to have been killed.

After the attack, Israel launched a withering offensive that has killed at least 27,131 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Visiting Khan Yunis on Thursday, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told troops that the city's Hamas brigade had been "dismantled" and the "same will happen in Rafah", the border town where hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians have sought refuge.

Gallant reiterated the government's position that only military force can secure the release of Israeli hostages, telling troops their operations "bring us closer to enabling the return of the hostages, because Hamas only responds to pressure".

The government's tough line has faced mounting opposition inside Israel, with protesters gathering again in Tel Aviv on Thursday night carrying placards featuring hostages' faces and slogans such as "No more bloodshed".

"This government, our leadership, needs to make decisions and they need to be brave," said activist Moran Zer Katzenstein.

"We need them to bring the hostages back, right now. The only way is through a deal."

 Settler sanctions

Violence has also flared in the occupied West Bank, where more than 370 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops and settlers since October 7.

The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on four Israeli settlers over the violence, in a rare US move against Israelis. Any assets they hold in the United States will be blocked, with Americans forbidden from financial transactions with them.

"The situation in the West Bank -- in particular high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction -- has reached intolerable levels," President Joe Biden said in an executive order laying the groundwork for US actions.

In Syria, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard was killed in an Israel strike south of Damascus, Iranian media reported. Two pro-Iran fighters were also killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said.

Hamas's war with Israel has sparked a surge in attacks by other Iran-backed groups around the region, primarily targeting Israel's Western allies.

Washington has vowed to retaliate for a Sunday drone attack by Iraq-based militants that killed three US soldiers at a base just across the border in neighbouring Jordan.

The deaths marked the first US military losses to hostile fire in the region since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7.

US officials have underlined that they are not seeking a confrontation with Tehran but Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi issued a stern warning Friday against any possible attack.

"We have said many times that we will not be the initiator of any war, but if a country, a cruel force wants to bully, the Islamic Republic of Iran will respond firmly," Raisi said.

One faction in the Iran-backed alliance that Washington holds responsible for the Jordan attack, Kataeb Hezbollah, announced on Tuesday that it was suspending its attacks on US troops.

But another, the Al-Nujaba movement, vowed Friday to keep up its campaign. "Any (US) strike will result in an appropriate response," Al-Nujaba leader Akram al-Kaabi said in a statement.


AFP


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