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Strikes hit Gaza as Egyptian TV says truce talks to resume

By AFP

March 31, 2024 04:40 PM


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Deadly airstrikes pounded the Gaza Strip as talks towards a truce between Israel and Hamas were set to resume in Cairo on Sunday, according to Egyptian state television.

Heavy fighting raged on in the besieged Palestinian territory, including in or around several hospitals, in the nearly six-month-old war sparked by Hamas's October 7 attack.

As an Israel siege has deepened the humanitarian crisis, an aid delivery inside Gaza descended into deadly chaos with shots fired and a stampede before dawn on Saturday.

At least five people were killed and dozens wounded, according to a Red Crescent paramedic, while the Israeli army said it had "no record of the incident described".

Witnesses told AFP that gunshots were fired, both by Gazans overseeing the delivery and Israeli troops nearby, and that lorries hit people.

To help alleviate the suffering of Gaza's 2.4 million people, another aid ship was sailing from the Mediterranean island-nation of Cyprus to bring 400 tonnes of food relief, as part of a small flotilla.

Foreign powers have ramped up aid airdrops, although UN agencies and charities warn this falls far short of the dire need. Several people have died in stampedes or drowned trying to retrieve packages from the sea.

At least 75 people were killed overnight in new Israeli bombardment and ground combat, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

The fighting has raged on unabated despite a UN Security Council resolution last Monday that demanded an "immediate ceasefire" and the release of all hostages held by militants.

Tensions have risen over the spiralling civilian death toll between Israel and its chief backer the United States, especially over Israeli threats to send ground forces into Gaza's crowded far-southern city of Rafah.

Washington has nonetheless approved billions of dollars worth of bombs and fighter jets for Israel in recent days, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed officials.

Pope Francis, in his Easter message, renewed his call for the guns to fall silent.

"I appeal once again that access to humanitarian aid be ensured to Gaza and call once more for the prompt release of the hostages seized on October 7 and for an immediate ceasefire in the Strip," he said in the Vatican.

Mass protests in Tel Aviv 

 

The war began with Hamas's October 7 attack that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory campaign has killed at least 32,782 people, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Palestinian militants also seized some 250 hostages. Israel believes about 130 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.

Under intense pressure to bring the captives home, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday approved a new round of ceasefire talks to take place in Doha and Cairo.

Egyptian TV station Al-Qahera, which is close to the country's intelligence services, said that the talks would resume in Cairo on Sunday.

An anchor said on Saturday that "an Egyptian security source confirmed to Al-Qahera News the resumption of negotiations on a truce between Israel and Hamas in the Egyptian capital Cairo tomorrow".

Netanyahu is under pressure from the captives' relatives and supporters, including at mass rallies Saturday night in Tel Aviv, where police used water cannons against protesters who lit fires and blocked highways.

One of the demonstrators, Hamas captivity survivor Raz Ben Ami, demanded that negotiators strike a deal to win their freedom.

"Prime minister, on behalf of the hostage men and women, on behalf of the people of Israel, give the negotiators in Qatar the order: Do not return without a deal."

Anti-government demonstrators and hostage supporters planned to rally again in the evening outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, and every night until Wednesday, said organizers.

 Battles near hospitals 

 In Gaza, vast areas of which have been reduced to a rubble-strewn wasteland, heavy fighting has rocked areas around several Gaza hospitals.

Israel accuses Palestinian militants of hiding inside and in tunnels beneath the medical facilities, and of using patients and medical staff as cover, charges which the groups deny.

The army said Saturday that it had "continued to eliminate" militants around the largest hospital, Al-Shifa in Gaza City, with around 200 reported killed after 13 days of fighting.

The Gaza health ministry said 107 patients remained inside Al-Shifa, including 30 with disabilities, and that the army had stopped attempts to evacuate them.

The army said soldiers raiding the hospital's maternity ward had found "many weapons hidden inside pillows, hospital beds, ceilings and the walls of the compound, including dozens of mortar shells, explosive devices, sniper rifles, Kalashnikov rifles, pistols, magazines, mortars, and additional ammunition".

"During one of the sweeps in the compound, the forces encountered armed terrorists and senior operatives of the Hamas terrorist organization in a stairwell," the army added. "A pursuit and exchange of fire ensued, during which the senior terrorists were eliminated."

Israeli military operations were also ongoing at two hospitals in the southern city of Khan Yunis -- at Nasser Hospital, according to the Hamas government press office, and at Al-Amal Hospital, according to the Red Crescent.

The UN World Health Organization warned that Gaza now has just 10 "minimally functioning" hospitals, down from 36 before the war.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that 9,000 patients need to leave Gaza for "lifesaving health services, including treatment for cancer, injuries from bombardments, kidney dialysis, and other chronic conditions".


AFP


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