Israel Palestine Conflict

Canada, Australia, New Zealand call for ceasefire in Gaza as Israel intensifies war

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The leaders of Canada, Australia and New Zealand on Thursday called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, according to a joint statement released in response to reports about Israel’s planned military operation in Rafah.

“We are gravely concerned by indications that Israel is planning a ground offensive into Rafah. A military operation into Rafah would be catastrophic,” the statement by the prime ministers of the three countries said.

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“An immediate humanitarian ceasefire is urgently needed.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it will press ahead with an offensive against Hamas in Rafah, the last refuge for displaced Palestinians in southern Gaza, after allowing civilians to vacate the area.

However, international human rights groups have warned that more than 1.4 million Palestinians who are sheltering in Rafah have no where left to go after Israel destroyed all remaining areas it previously said were designated safe zones.

The statement urged Israel not to conduct the offensive, however it said any ceasefire could not be “one sided,” and would require Hamas to disarm and immediately release all remaining hostages.

The leaders also said the International Court of Justice’s January ruling in a genocide case brought by South Africa obligated Israel to protect civilians and deliver basic services and essential humanitarian assistance.

“The protection of civilians is paramount and a requirement under international humanitarian law,” the statement said.

“Palestinian civilians cannot be made to pay the price of defeating Hamas.”

‘Delusional demands’

In Cairo, mediators from the United States, Qatar and Egypt are seeking to broker a deal that would suspend fighting and see the release of the roughly 130 hostages still in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

“Israel did not receive in Cairo any new proposal of Hamas on the release of our hostages,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement following Israeli media reports that the country’s delegation was told not to rejoin negotiations until Hamas softens its stance.

While he did not comment directly on the reports, Netanyahu said: “I insist that Hamas drop their delusional demands, and when they drop these demands we can move forward.”

On Tuesday, CIA director William Burns joined the talks with David Barnea, head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, while a Hamas delegation was in Cairo Wednesday.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who governs the Israeli-occupied West Bank, called on Hamas to “rapidly” agree to a truce and stave off further tragedy for Palestinians.

Displaced Palestinians stand outside their tents in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 14, 2024, amid the continuing battles between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Displaced Palestinians stand outside their tents in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 14, 2024, amid the continuing battles between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation meanwhile revealed that its director, Christopher Wray, had made an unannounced trip to Israel to meet with the country’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Wray also met with FBI agents based in Tel Aviv, according to a statement from the bureau.

Hospitals ‘besieged’

While truce negotiations enter their third day, Israel’s military has kept up its bombardment of Gaza.

On Thursday, the ministry of health in Gaza said 107 people, “mostly women and children,” were killed in overnight attacks.

One person was killed and several wounded in shelling on Al-Nasser Hospital’s orthopedics department, it added.

The medical facility, the largest in southern Gaza, has been the site of heavy fighting for weeks.

Doctors Without Borders has condemned the Israeli military’s order to evacuate thousands of patients, staff and displaced people from the hospital.

The organization said its staff are continuing to treat patients there “amid near impossible conditions.”

Nurse Mohammed al-Astal told AFP the facility had been “besieged” for a month, with no food or drinking water left.

“At night, tanks opened heavy fire on the hospital and snipers on the roofs of buildings surrounding Al-Nasser Hospital opened fire and killed three displaced people,” he said.

The World Health Organization has said it was denied access to the hospital and lost contact with its staff there, while its Palestine representative said most of the organization’s mission requests have been denied since January.

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Speaking from Rafah, Rik Peeperkorn said Gaza’s hospitals were “completely overwhelmed.”

Patients were frequently undergoing unnecessary amputations of limbs that could have been saved under ordinary circumstances, he said.

The United Nations said a week ago there were no fully functioning hospitals left in Gaza, where more than 68,200 people have been wounded according to the latest toll of the health ministry in the Strip.

The ministry says at least 28,576 people, mostly women and children, have been killed during Israel’s assault on the Palestinian territory since October 7.

The Hamas attack that launched the war resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

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