Israel Palestine Conflict

Mediators in Cairo push for ceasefire on second day of Gaza truce talks

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Mediators in Cairo pushed on Monday with efforts towards a Gaza truce after Israel’s top ally the United States stepped up pressure for a halt in fighting and more aid to enter the besieged Palestinian territory.

Bombardment and combat claimed 124 more lives within 24 hours, said the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory which has been devastated and gripped by dire food shortages in the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attacks.

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Qatari and Egyptian mediators met with US and Hamas envoys -- but no Israeli delegates so far -- in Cairo for a second day of talks aiming for a halt in fighting before the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan starts on March 10 or 11.

A state-linked Egyptian TV channel reported “significant progress” towards a truce deal without giving any more details, while a Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the talks were continuing.

The plan on the table aims for a six-week truce, the exchange of scores of remaining hostages for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, and for more aid to enter Gaza -- but sticking points remain.

Hamas wants Israel to withdraw all forces, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted the army will finish its campaign to destroy Hamas, including in far-southern Rafah where about 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering.

Israel has also demanded a list of all remaining captives. Israel has said it believes 130 of the original 250 captives taken by Hamas remain in Gaza, but that 31 have been killed.

US Vice President Kamala Harris called on Sunday for the six-week truce deal to be accepted, while criticizing Israel in unusually strong language over insufficient aid deliveries into Gaza.

“Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire for at least the next six weeks, which is what is currently on the table,” she said in a speech in Selma, Alabama.

“Hamas claims it wants a ceasefire,” she said. “Well, there is a deal on the table. And, as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal.”

The vice president also stressed that Gazans are starving and that conditions are “inhumane” and demanded the Netanyahu government “must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses.”

Gantz in Washington


Her comments come as President Joe Biden faces acute pressure in an election year over his steadfast support for Israel and Gaza’s soaring civilian death toll, which the health ministry there put at 30,534, mostly women and children.

Harris as well as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, were later set to meet Israel’s former military chief Benny Gantz in Washington.

Gantz is a member of Netanyahu’s war cabinet -- but also a centrist political rival of the right-wing veteran premier, whom he harshly criticized before the war.

In a sign of political divisions, Gantz’s US visit was criticized by Doudi Amsellem, minister of regional cooperation, in a post on social media platform X that said: “Mr Gantz, your entry into government was intended to create unity at a time of emergency, not to be a Trojan horse.”

Amid the diplomacy crisis, the Gaza conflict continued, with witnesses reporting clashes in Gaza City’s Zeitun neighborhood and the main southern city of Khan Younis.

Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas after its unprecedented attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

The Hamas government media office said “dozens of air strikes” and “intense artillery shelling” hit areas across Gaza.

The Israeli military said it carried out “targeted raids” in the Khan Younis area, killed “15 terrorists” over the past day, and detained dozens of suspects linked to Palestinian armed groups.

‘Powder keg’


Gaza’s hunger crisis came into stark relief last Thursday when more than 100 Palestinians were killed in chaotic and bloody scenes around a convoy of aid trucks in Gaza City.

Gaza health officials said Israeli forces opened fire into the crowd, while Israel’s army said most victims were trampled to death or hit by trucks in a crush for food.

The UN Security Council voiced concern over Gaza’s “alarming levels of acute food insecurity” and urged “the immediate, rapid, safe, sustained and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale.”

Palestinian families have told AFP of grinding up animal feed and foraged plants, while the health ministry said at least 16 children have died of malnutrition in Gaza’s aid-deprived north.

Blinken said on X that “it is imperative that we expand the flow of aid into Gaza to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation.”

A Hamas official has said the group wants the truce deal to include “the entry of at least 400 to 500 trucks per day” carrying food, medicine and fuel.

Witnesses told AFP that an Israeli strike hit an aid truck in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah on Sunday, killing several people.

The Israeli military denied the claim and told AFP: “It was not an aid truck that was struck.”

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It issued a statement saying a Hamas militant responsible for recruiting and fund-raising was traveling inside the truck and “was eliminated in an aerial strike.”

The Gaza war has sparked violence across the region, drawing in Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, whose Houthi militia has attacked shipping off its coast.

UN human rights chief Volker Turk warned that the war “has already generated dangerous spillover in neighboring countries, and I am deeply concerned that in this powder keg, any spark could lead to a much broader conflagration.”

“This would have implications for every country in the Middle East and many beyond it,” Turk said in his global update to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

With AFP

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