Israel Palestine Conflict

Hopes dim for Gaza truce before Ramadan as war enters sixth month

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Hopes dimmed on Thursday for a truce before Ramadan in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza that entered its sixth month with dozens more killed, according to the health ministry in the territory threatened by famine.

The ministry said 83 more people had been killed over the previous day, adding to a toll it says has reached 30,800, mostly women and children, in a war that China called “a disgrace to civilization.”

In the wasteland of Jabalia, northern Gaza, Palestinians gathered to receive meals at a donation point.

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“There is no gas to cook our food on. There is no flour, or rice,” said Bassam al-Hou, standing beside large, blackened cooking pots among the dusty rubble.

People bury the bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes and fire, after their bodies were released by Israel, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, at a mass grave in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 7, 2024. (Reuters)
People bury the bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes and fire, after their bodies were released by Israel, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, at a mass grave in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 7, 2024. (Reuters)

He said children “are dying and fainting in the streets from hunger. What can we do?”

Fighting began after an unprecedented October 7 attack by Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, on southern Israel that resulted in about 1,160 deaths, most of them civilians, according to Israeli figures.

Israel has responded with a relentless bombardment, alongside a ground offensive, that Hamas authorities on Thursday said had continued with more than 30 Israeli airstrikes across the territory.

In Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, the bodies of about 14 people killed lay in front of a hospital. The bare feet of some protruded from under the colored cloths that covered them.

US President Joe Biden had urged Hamas to accept a ceasefire plan with Israel before the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan begins, as early as Sunday depending on the lunar calendar.

‘What can we do?’

But on Thursday Hamas’ delegation left Cairo and talks “will resume next week” during Ramadan, said al-Qahera News channel, which is linked to Egypt’s state intelligence service, citing a senior source.

Hamas confirmed its delegates had left Cairo for truce consultations, while voicing dissatisfaction with Israeli responses so far.

As talks drag on, the United Nations has repeatedly warned that famine looms for Palestinians struggling to survive in the territory.

“It is a tragedy for humankind and a disgrace for civilization that today, in the 21st century, this humanitarian disaster cannot be stopped,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, whose country has been historically sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

By late January the war had damaged around half of all buildings in Gaza and rendered the territory “uninhabitable” for its 2.4 million people, a UN agency said, warning the impact would only worsen if the war continued.

The health ministry on Wednesday said 20 people had died of malnutrition and dehydration, at least half of them children.

Only limited aid has reached Gaza’s north.

The UN on Wednesday again cited “access constraints” as among the factors limiting essential water and other services, while United States Vice President Kamala Harris has said Israel “must not impose any unnecessary restrictions” on aid delivery.

Rescued from rubble

James McGoldrick, interim UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian Territories, said aid convoys would continue to be looted or ransacked unless assistance can “really flood” the north.

He said Israeli authorities had “given the green light” for use of a military road on the eastern side of Gaza to reach the north.

Israeli soldiers are seen near the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel, March 4, 2024. (AP)
Israeli soldiers are seen near the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel, March 4, 2024. (AP)

On Saturday the United States joined Jordan and other countries which have airdropped aid, but humanitarians say this is not the most efficient way to provide relief.

Airdrops continued on Thursday, AFPTV images showed.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is expected in Cyprus on Friday for talks on a maritime aid corridor from the island to Gaza.

In the grey ruins of Khan Younis, southern Gaza’s largest city, dozens of people went to inspect their homes and take what belongings they could recover after Israeli forces pulled out of the city center, an AFP correspondent said.

Gaza’s Civil Defense agency said Israeli forces “destroyed all water, sewage, electricity, communications, and road networks” in central Khan Younis.

The army has yet to respond to an AFP request to confirm a withdrawal from the area, but both the army and Hamas authorities said military operations were continuing in the city’s west.

Witnesses told AFP violent clashes had also occurred in the Zeitoun district of Gaza City and Shuka, a village in Rafah, where around 1.5 million people have sought refuge near the Egyptian border but have been unable to escape the fighting.

Hala Hazem Hamada, 15, was rescued on Tuesday after three days under the rubble of a home where her family had sheltered near Khan Younis. An encounter with Israeli troops left six members of her family dead, including her parents.

Pressure

During the October 7 attack, militants also took around 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, some of whom were released during a week-long truce in November. Israel believes 99 of them remain alive in Gaza and that 31 have died.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced increasing public pressure over the fate of hostages still held, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.

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The war has highlighted deep divisions between Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, a member of his war cabinet who made an unauthorized trip to Washington and London this week.

Netanyahu has vowed to push on with the campaign to destroy Hamas, before or after any truce deal.

Hamas has insisted on a full Israeli withdrawal and complete ceasefire, but on Thursday a senior official of the movement, who confirmed the delegation had left Cairo for consultations, said Israel’s initial responses “do not meet the minimum requirements.”

The proposed deal would pause fighting for “at least six weeks,” see the “release of sick, wounded, elderly and women hostages” and allow for “a surge of humanitarian assistance,” the White House said.

-With AFP

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