08 May 2024, 23:34

Israel pounds Gaza as truce talks resume

          RAFAH, Palestinian Territories, May  8, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Israel bombarded
Rafah on Wednesday and the military said ground troops conducted "targeted
raids" in the southern Gazan city, as negotiations to halt the seven-month war
resumed in Cairo.

       Israel has defied international objections and sent tanks into Rafah, which
is crowded with Palestinian civilians sheltering near the Egyptian border,
seizing on Tuesday a crossing that is the main conduit for aid into the
besieged territory.

       The White House condemned the interruption to humanitarian deliveries, with
a senior US official later revealing Washington had paused a shipment of bombs
last week after Israel failed to address concerns over its long-threatened
Rafah operation.

       The Israeli military on Wednesday said it was reopening another major aid
crossing into Gaza, Kerem Shalom, as well as the Erez crossing, both on the
territory's border with Israel.

       But the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said the Kerem Shalom
crossing -- which Israel shut after a rocket attack killed four soldiers on
Sunday -- remained closed.

       It came after a night of heavy Israeli strikes and shelling across Gaza.
       AFPTV footage showed Palestinians scrambling in the dark to pull survivors,
bloodied and caked in dust, out from under the rubble of a Rafah building.

       "We are living in Rafah in extreme fear and endless anxiety," said Muhanad
Ahmad Qishta, 29.

       "Places the Israeli army claims to be safe are also being bombed," he told

       In devastated northern Gaza, Al-Ahli hospital said a strike on an apartment
in Gaza City killed seven family members and wounded several other people.
       The Israeli military said it had struck over 100 targets across the Gaza
Strip throughout Tuesday.

       It added in a statement that its "troops are conducting targeted raids on
the Gazan side of Rafah crossing in the eastern part of Rafah".
       - 'Catastrophic' -
       An emergency doctor working in Rafah and nearby Khan Yunis said that with
humanitarian access compromised, the health situation was "catastrophic".

       "The smell of sewage is rife everywhere," said the doctor, James Smith.
"It's been getting worse over the course of the last couple of days."

       World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on
Wednesday hospitals in the Gaza Strip's south had only "three days of fuel
left" because of the border closures.

       "Without fuel all humanitarian operations will stop", he posted on X.
       Meanwhile the Hamas-run government media office said health workers had
uncovered at least 49 bodies from the premises of Gaza City's Al-Shifa
hospital, the territory's largest which was devastated by two weeks of fighting
in March.

       The bodies were recovered from "a third mass grave" at Al-Shifa, following
the discovery of some 30 bodies last month, said Motassem Salah, head of the
hospital's emergency department.

       There was no immediate comment from Israel, which accuses Hamas militants
of operating out of hospitals -- a charge denied by the Palestinian group.

       The war was sparked by Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel,
which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians,
according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

       Israel in response vowed to crush Hamas and launched a military offensive
that has killed at least 34,844 people in Gaza, mostly women and children,
according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

       Militants also took about 250 hostages. Israel estimates 128 of them remain
in Gaza including 36 who officials say are dead.

       Talks aimed at agreeing a ceasefire resumed in Cairo on Wednesday "in the
presence of all parties", Egyptian state-linked media reported.

       A senior Hamas official said the latest round of negotiations would be

       Hamas "insists on the rightful demands of its people and will not give up
any of our people's rights," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity
because he was not authorised to speak publicly on the negotiations.

       He had previously warned it would be Israel's "last chance" to free the
scores of hostages still in militants' hands.
       - Incursion condemned -
       Qatar, which hosts Hamas leaders and has been mediating between the two
sides, appealed "for urgent international action to prevent Rafah from being
invaded and a crime of genocide being committed".

       A Palestinian analyst said Israel's seizure of the Rafah crossing could be
an attempt to create new facts on the ground, or a bid to "sabotage the truce

       "The takeover is also a symbol shown to the world that Hamas is not in
control anymore," said Mkhaimar Abusada, of Al-Azhar University in Gaza.

       Israel's seizure of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing came after
Hamas said it had accepted a truce proposal -- one Israel said was "far" from
what its own negotiators had previously agreed to.

       Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Rafah operation as
"a very important step" in denying Hamas "a passage that was essential for
establishing its reign of terror".

       Hours later, a senior US administration official speaking on condition of
anonymity said Washington had "paused one shipment of weapons last week" after
Israel failed to address its concerns over the Rafah incursion, which the
United States has vocally opposed.

       The shipment had consisted of more than 3,500 heavy-duty bombs, the
official said.

       It was the first time President Joe Biden, whose government is Israel's top
provider of military assistance, had acted on a warning he gave Netanyahu in
April that US policy on Gaza would depend on how Israel treated civilians.

       The Pentagon, meanwhile, said the US military had completed construction of
an aid pier off Gaza's coast, but weather conditions meant it was currently
unsafe to move it into place.

       Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel would "deepen" its Gaza operation
if negotiations failed to bring the hostages home.

       "This operation will continue until we eliminate Hamas in the Rafah area
and the entire Gaza Strip, or until the first hostage returns," he said.



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