Photo: Nicole Garcia Agence France-Presse An Israeli soldier patrolled Khan Yunis in southern Gaza on January 27. This photo, taken during a visit organized for the media, was edited by the Israeli army.
Adel Zaanoun – Agence France-Presse respectively in the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem
- Middle East
Deadly fighting raged again on Monday in Gaza, as hopes for a truce in the war between Israel and Hamas were revived after behind-the-scenes talks between the mediating countries.
The Palestinian Islamist movement, however, declared that it wanted a “complete” ceasefire with Israel as a prerequisite to any agreement on the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip since the start of the war, almost four months ago.
Fears of an extension of the conflict resurfaced after the death of three American soldiers, killed in Jordan in a drone attack blamed by Washington on pro-Iran groups.
In the besieged and devastated territory, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which provides vital aid to civilians, is in trouble after Israeli accusations of the alleged involvement of 12 of its employees in Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel. The European Union has asked UNRWA “to agree to an audit being carried out by independent experts, chosen by the European Commission.”
The head of Israeli diplomacy, Israel Katz, called for the resignation of the UNRWA commissioner general.
Eleven countries have suspended funding to the agency, despite a call from UN boss António Guterres to ensure its activities continue.
Twenty humanitarian organizations, including Oxfam, Save the Children and ActionAid, said they were “outraged” by the suspension of aid, in a joint statement.
“Die of Starvation”
In Rafah, a town in southern Gaza on the border with Egypt where there are more than 1.3 million displaced people, according to the UN, some expressed their concern on Monday.
“We live on the help that UNRWA gives us. If it stopped, we would starve and no one would come to our aid,” confided Sabah Masabih, 50.
The unprecedented Hamas attack resulted in the deaths of around 1,140 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to a count by Agence France-Presse (AFP) based on official Israeli figures.
In response, Israel has vowed to “annihilate” the movement in power in Gaza since 2007, which it classifies as a terrorist organization, like the United States and the European Union.
Israeli military operations in the Palestinian territory left 26,637 dead, the vast majority of them women, children and adolescents, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health.
In 24 hours, 215 people were killed, according to the ministry, which reported strikes notably on Khan Younes (south) and Gaza City (north).
In Khan Younes, which has become the epicenter of the war, “very violent” fighting is raging, according to witnesses.
Images shot by AFP during a recent visit organized by the army show tanks advancing through a devastated landscape, between gutted buildings, where soldiers discovered a tunnel attributed to Hamas.
The “specificities” of this war, explains Dan Goldfus, the mission commander, “is that the maneuvers are carried out on the surface and underground”.
In Israel, rocket warning sirens sounded Monday in Tel Aviv and the center of the country. The shooting was claimed by the armed wing of Hamas, after several weeks of calm in this region.
Behind the scenes, negotiations continue for a truce.
A framework for a truce accompanied by new releases of hostages will be transmitted to Hamas, announced Monday in Washington the Prime Minister of Qatar, Mohammed bin Abdulrahmane Al-Thani.
He reported “notable progress” after a meeting Sunday in Paris between CIA Director William Burns and senior Egyptian, Israeli and Qatari officials.
“A lot of work has been done,” “but we haven’t crossed the finish line yet,” White House spokesman John Kirby told CNN earlier. .
Israel reported “constructive” discussions, despite “disputes”.
But Hamas wants to negotiate a “complete ceasefire” with Israel before any agreement, a senior official of the Islamist movement told AFP on Monday.
Qatar, Egypt and the United States negotiated a first truce which allowed the release at the end of November of around a hundred of the approximately 250 people kidnapped in Israel on October 7 in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.
According to Israeli authorities, 132 hostages are still being held in Gaza, 28 of whom are presumed dead.
The proposed agreement would involve a two-month truce and the release of all hostages against Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, according to the New York Times.
Explosive regional context
In an explosive regional context, 3 American soldiers were killed and 34 injured in a drone attack on Sunday in northeastern Jordan, near the border with Syria and Iraq. The attack was blamed by Washington on pro-Iran groups.
President Joe Biden will respond “in a very consistent way,” John Kirby said on CNN, while assuring that the United States was not “seeking war with Iran” or “a broader conflict in the Middle East “.
Tehran has denied any involvement in the attack.
According to an American official, the international anti-jihadist coalition, led by the United States, saw one of its bases, located in Shaddadi, in northeastern Syria, targeted by “multiple rockets”, which caused neither casualties nor damage.