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Netanyahu determined to enter Rafah as truce talks stall

Photo: Tsafrir Abayov Associated Press An Israeli soldier in the turret of his armored vehicle in southern Israel, near the border with Gaza.

Mai Yaghi – Agence France-Presse and Guillaume Lavallée – Agence France-Presse respectively in the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem

February 17, 2024

  • Middle East

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday he was determined to carry out a ground offensive in Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinians are crowded, after the Qatari mediator acknowledged that negotiations on a truce between Israel and Hamas would not work. were “not very promising.”

In the Gaza Strip besieged and devastated by more than four months of war, triggered by a bloody Hamas attack in Israel on October 7, incessant Israeli aerial bombardments, notably in Khan Younes and Rafah, in the south of the territory, left around a hundred dead according to the Ministry of Health of the Palestinian Islamist movement.

Fears are also intensifying for at least 120 patients and five medical teams trapped, without water, food or electricity at the Nasser hospital in Khan Younès, stormed by Israeli soldiers, according to the same source.

“Anyone who wants to stop us from carrying out an operation in Rafah is basically telling us to lose the war. I’m not going to give in to that,” Netanyahu said in Jerusalem.

He was referring to the serious concerns expressed around the world, including by the American ally, for the civilians, most of them displaced, in this city located on the closed border with Egypt.

As a sign of his determination, Mr. Netanyahu affirmed that the army would carry out its operation in Rafah even if there was an agreement on the hostages taken to Gaza during the October 7 attack. “Even if we reach an agreement on the hostages, we will enter Rafah,” he said after asking his army on February 9 to prepare an “evacuation plan” for civilians in that city.

Negotiations involving Egyptian, American and Qatari mediators to obtain a truce between Hamas and Israel, including an exchange between Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners, have taken place in recent weeks.

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“Not very promising”

Negotiations have “not been very promising in recent days,” Qatar Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdelrahman al-Thani said in Munich. But “we will do our best to get closer” to an agreement.

Hamas, which took power in Gaza in 2007, threatened to leave the talks if “[humanitarian] aid was not delivered to northern Gaza” threatened with famine, according to a press release.

And its leader Ismaïl Haniyeh repeated that his movement demanded a ceasefire and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as part of the negotiations.

Conditions rejected several times by Israel, whose major offensive in Gaza has razed entire neighborhoods, displaced 1.7 million of the 2.4 million inhabitants and caused a catastrophic humanitarian crisis according to the UN.

On October 7, Hamas commandos infiltrated from Gaza carried out an attack in southern Israel during which more than 1,160 people were killed, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official data Israelis.

Israel has vowed to annihilate Hamas, classified as “terrorist” by the United States and the European Union. Its army launched an offensive in Gaza that cost the lives of 28,858 people, the vast majority civilians, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health.

According to Israel, 130 hostages are still being held in Gaza, 30 of whom are believed to have died, out of around 250 people kidnapped on October 7. At the end of November, a one-week truce allowed the release of 105 hostages and 240 Palestinians held by Israel.

“A dilemma we faced […] is that obtaining a ceasefire (was) conditional on an agreement on the hostages,” explained the Qatari prime minister. “It shouldn’t be conditioned. »

“Newborns risk death”

After having carried out incessant bombardments by land, sea and air against the 362 km2 territory since October 7, the Israeli army launched a ground offensive in the north of the Gaza Strip on October 27 before extending it to the south.

Its soldiers have been concentrating their operations for weeks in Khan Younes, hometown of Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahia Sinouar, alleged mastermind of the October 7 attack.

At the Nasser hospital in the city transformed into a field of ruins, six patients including a child have died since Friday due to power cuts, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health. “Newborns are at risk of death. »

Soldiers entered the hospital on Thursday based on information that hostages were being held there, the army said, reporting the arrest of 100 people and the discovery of weapons.

International organizations have expressed their concerns, with Médecins sans Frontières calling the situation in the hospital “catastrophic”.

“Don’t sentence my husband to death”

As more aid arrived in Rafah on Saturday, the UN warned that residents of the Gaza Strip risked starvation.

“We are not going to die from the bombs, but from hunger,” said Mohammed Nassar, a 50-year-old Palestinian from Jabaliya in northern Gaza.

In Tel Aviv, thousands of Israelis demonstrated against the Netanyahu government and called on it to reach a deal to release the hostages.

“I beg the prime minister and the government to negotiate […] Do not sentence my husband to death,” Sharon Aloni-Cunio, a hostage who was released with her twins then, said at the rally that her husband is still detained in Gaza.

Abroad, demonstrations of solidarity with the Palestinians took place in several cities, in Rome, London, Stockholm and Istanbul.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116