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Israel bombs Gaza as UN chief calls for end to ‘horror and starvation’

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Air and artillery strikes pounded targets in Gaza Sunday as UN chief Antonio Guterres called for a surge of aid into the besieged territory he said was stalked by “horror and starvation”.

Other world leaders added their voices to that of Guterres in appealing for an immediate ceasefire and a halt to Israeli plans to send in troops against militants in Gaza’s crowded southern city of Rafah.

Talks aimed at a deal for a truce and release of hostages were taking place in Qatar but the heads of the Israeli and US spy agencies involved in the negotiations have now left the Gulf emirate for consultations, an informed source told AFP.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said Sunday that another 84 people had been killed over the previous 24 hours, raising the total death toll in the territory during nearly six months of war to 32,226, most of them women and children.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking to reporters at El-Arish International Airport in Egypt, visited the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing and urged an end to Gaza's 'nightmare'
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking to reporters at El-Arish International Airport in Egypt, visited the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing and urged an end to Gaza’s ‘nightmare’ © Khaled DESOUKI / AFP

The Gaza war began with an unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7 that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Israel has vowed to destroy the militants, who also seized about 250 hostages, of whom Israel believes around 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 presumed dead.

Palestinian children, some with heads bandaged, others more severely wounded in the latest bombardments, were rescued from the rubble of collapsed buildings and rushed to Al-Najjar hospital in Rafah.

Guterres, on a visit to Egypt, urged an end to the “non-stop nightmare” endured by Gaza’s 2.4 million people in the territory’s worst-ever war.

“Looking at Gaza, it almost appears that the four horsemen of war, famine, conquest and death are galloping across it,” the UN secretary-general said, visiting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

People sit together for a mass 'iftar' (fast-breaking) meal organised by members of the Barbara refugee camp during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Rafah
People sit together for a mass ‘iftar’ (fast-breaking) meal organised by members of the Barbara refugee camp during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Rafah © MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

“The whole world recognises that it’s past time to silence the guns and ensure an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.”

With the United Nations warning of imminent famine in Gaza, Guterres urged Israel to allow in more humanitarian aid via the Rafah border crossing whose Egyptian side he visited, saying trucks were “blocked”.

On social media, Israel’s military responded that the UN should scale up its logistics and “stop blaming Israel for its own failures”.

‘Extreme danger’

Combat has flared for almost a week in and around Gaza’s biggest hospital complex, Gaza City’s Al-Shifa.

The UN on Friday had reported “intensive exchanges of fire” involving Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in the area.

An Israeli tank moving along the border with the Gaza Strip
An Israeli tank moving along the border with the Gaza Strip © JACK GUEZ / AFP/File

The Hamas government media office said 190 people had been killed in the Al-Shifa operation, and 30 nearby buildings destroyed.

The army said its forces had killed more than 170 militants and detained about 480 militants affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which is fighting alongside Hamas.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Sunday that Israeli forces were also besieging Nasser and Al-Amal hospitals in southern Gaza’s Khan Yunis city.

The Red Crescent said messages broadcast from drones demanded that everyone in Al-Amal leave naked, while forces blocked the gates of the hospital with dirt barriers.

“All of our crews are currently under extreme danger and cannot move at all,” the Red Crescent added.

In response to AFP’s request for comment, the military said it was operating in the Al-Amal area but “not currently… in the hospitals”.

A Palestinian boy sits between a blood-stained mattress and body bags at Rafah's Al-Najjar hospital
A Palestinian boy sits between a blood-stained mattress and body bags at Rafah’s Al-Najjar hospital © MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

The military said the operation began with air force strikes on about 40 targets, including military compounds and tunnels.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II stressed in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron the need for “an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza and protecting innocent civilians”, the palace said.

He also called for more aid to reach Gaza as his country’s planes again airdropped relief supplies with aircraft from the United States, Egypt, Germany and Singapore.

Munitions

Tensions have grown between Israel and Washington, which provides billions of dollars in military aid to Israel but has become increasingly vocal about the war’s impact on civilians.

Prior to taking off for an official visit to the United States, Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said his focus will include “preserving the qualitative military edge” and “our ability to obtain platforms and munitions”.

Northern Gaza Strip and Al-Shifa hospital
Northern Gaza Strip and Al-Shifa hospital © Nalini LEPETIT-CHELLA, Jean-Michel CORNU, Hervé BOUILLY / AFP

He is set to meet Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and other senior US officials.

A source of tension between the two countries is Israel’s plan to extend its ground invasion into Rafah city on the Egyptian border, where around 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge, mostly in overcrowded shelters.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a major ground operation in Rafah was not necessary to deal with Hamas, and “there is no place” for civilians there to get out of harm’s way.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads a coalition including religious and ultra-nationalist parties, has vowed to go ahead with a Rafah invasion even without Washington’s support.

Macron, in a phone call with Netanyahu on Sunday, repeated his opposition to any Israeli military operation against Hamas in Rafah and said forced transfer of Rafah’s population would be “a war crime”.

Israeli settlers dressed in Purim costumes on Al-Shuhada Street, which is largely closed to Palestinians in the divided city of Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank during celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Purim
Israeli settlers dressed in Purim costumes on Al-Shuhada Street, which is largely closed to Palestinians in the divided city of Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank during celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Purim © HAZEM BADER / AFP

Macron urged Israel to open all crossing points into Gaza, which could help the aid flow, and said he intended to bring a draft resolution to the UN Security Council calling for “an immediate and lasting ceasefire”.

Russia and China on Friday vetoed a US-led draft resolution for the Council to support “the imperative” of a ceasefire.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was on Sunday to begin a visit to Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Before leaving Germany she appealed for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire”.

The latest negotiations had “focused on details and a ratio for the exchange of hostages and prisoners”, a source briefed on the talks said, adding that technical teams remained in Qatar.

(AFP)

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