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127 more Palestinians killed as fighting rages in Gaza

By AFP

February 5, 2024 10:11 AM


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Battles raged in Gaza's south Sunday ahead of another visit to the region by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a bid to secure a new truce as the Israel-Hamas war approaches its fifth month.

Blinken set off Sunday on what is his fifth Mideast trip since the October 7 attack by Hamas that set off the crisis.

He is expected to begin his trip on Monday in Saudi Arabia before visits to Israel, Egypt and Qatar.

The health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said at least 127 people were killed in Israeli strikes in the previous 24 hours in the territory.

The Hamas government media office said a kindergarten where families were sheltering was hit in the southern border city of Rafah, which is teeming with Palestinians displaced by the war.

"There is no safe place in the Gaza Strip, from north to south," displaced man Mohammed Kloub told AFP in Rafah, which according to UN figures now hosts more than half of Gaza's population.

Israel has warned its ground forces could advance on Rafah as part of its campaign to eliminate Hamas.

An AFP journalist reported strikes and tank fire on Khan Yunis, southern Gaza's main city, with some air raids also hitting nearby Rafah.

Israel's army said its forces had raided a Hamas training facility in Khan Yunis where militants prepared for the October 7 attack.

The Al-Qadisiya compound contained models of Israeli military bases, armoured vehicles, as well as entry points to kibbutzim, the army said in a statement.

During the raid, the army "neutralised" several militants, it said.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said that at the nearby Al-Amal hospital there were "alarming signs (of) a humanitarian disaster... after 14 days of continuous siege".

- 'Hitting them hard' -

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the army had "destroyed 17 of 24 (Hamas) battalions. Most of the remaining battalions are in the southern Strip and in Rafah, and we will deal with them."

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant meanwhile said: "The pressure on Hamas is working, they are in a very difficult situation and we are hitting them hard."

With the war set to enter a fifth month on Wednesday, international mediators were pressing to seal a proposed truce deal thrashed out in a Paris meeting of top US, Israeli, Egyptian and Qatari officials.

French foreign minister Stephane Sejourne, on his first Middle East tour, met his counterparts in Egypt and Jordan, with Amman's foreign minister Ayman Safadi saying "immediate international action" was needed "to stop the war in Gaza".

Sejourne said he had told Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of France's desire "for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and restarting talks for a... two-state solution".

A top Hamas official in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, said Saturday the group needed more time to "announce our position" on the truce deal.

Hamdan added that Hamas wanted "to put an end as quickly as possible to the aggression that our people suffer".

A Hamas source has said the proposal involves an initial six-week pause that would see more aid delivered into Gaza and the phased release of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

- Gaza rendered 'unlivable' -

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

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

Vowing to eliminate Hamas, Israel launched a massive military offensive that has killed at least 27,365 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-ruled territory's health ministry.

Gazans have faced dire humanitarian conditions, and the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said on social media platform X that "there is very limited access to clean water and sanitation amid relentless bombardment".

Experts and rights groups told AFP that Israeli forces have destroyed buildings near the border in an attempt to create a buffer zone inside the Palestinian territory.

Israel has not publicly confirmed the plan, which Nadia Hardman, an expert on refugees at Human Rights Watch, said "may amount to a war crime".

"We are seeing mounting evidence that Israel appears to be rendering large parts of Gaza unlivable," she said.

Sejourne told his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry that he understood Cairo's concerns over "forced displacement" of Palestinians into Egypt from the Gaza Strip.

- 'Turmoil' across region -

Concern for hostages still in Gaza and security failures surrounding the October 7 attack -- the deadliest in Israel's 75-year history -- have led to criticism of Netanyahu and rallies against the government.

Michal Hadas, protesting in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, told AFP she feared Israel's leaders were dragging out the conflict for political reasons, "because as long as the war continues there will be no election".

The war has also sent regional tensions soaring, with a surge in attacks by Iran-backed groups in solidarity with Gaza triggering counterattacks by key Israel ally the United States.

The United States and its partner Britain said they struck dozens of targets in Yemen late Saturday in response to repeated attacks on shipping by Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

A Huthi spokesman said the latest wave of air strikes "will not pass without response and punishment".

Iran said the attacks "contradicted" US and UK statements on preventing regional escalation, and Hamas warned the strikes would bring "further turmoil" to the Middle East.


AFP


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