Israel to join truce talks in Paris, amid heavy Gaza bombardment

Israel to join truce talks in Paris amid heavy Gaza bombardment

/ 05:19 AM February 23, 2024

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a mosque and houses, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip February 22, 2024. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a mosque and houses, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip February 22, 2024. (REUTERS)

RAFAH, Gaza Strip/CAIRO/JERUSALEM  – Israel will send negotiators on Friday to truce talks in Paris, Israeli media said, as Gazans hoped for a ceasefire that could hold off a full-blown Israeli assault on Rafah, after it endured one of its worst bombardments of the conflict.

Israel’s Channel 12 television reported on Thursday that the war cabinet approved sending negotiators, led by the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, to Paris for talks on a potential deal to free more than 100 hostages whom Palestinian militant group Hamas is believed to be holding.


The head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, has been in Egypt this week in the strongest sign in weeks that negotiations remain alive.


Earlier Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement, “We will expand the authority given to our hostage negotiators” while preparing to continue intense ground operations.

In the night to Thursday, Israeli bombing flattened a mosque and destroyed homes in Rafah in a fierce surge of violence in the city where over half of the Gaza’s 2.3 million people are huddled, mostly in tents.

In Khan Younis, the territory’s principal battlefield since Israel launched an assault on the city last month, Israeli forces raided Nasser Medical Complex, shortly after withdrawing from it, the Palestinian enclave’s health ministry said.

The World Health Organization had said earlier it aimed to evacuate some of the roughly 140 patients stranded there, where Palestinian officials said bodies of dead patients had begun to decompose amid power cuts and fighting.

Israel gave no immediate comment.

In Rafah, mourners wept over at least seven corpses in body bags, laid on cobbles outside a morgue.


“They took the people I love, they took a piece of my heart,” wailed Dina al-Shaer, whose brother and his family were killed in an overnight strike.

Gaza health authorities said 97 people were confirmed killed and 130 wounded in the last 24 hours of Israeli assaults, but many more victims were still under rubble.

They later said a bombardment in the central Gaza Strip killed a further 23 people.

Rafah’s al-Farouk mosque was flattened into slabs of concrete, and the facades of adjacent buildings were blasted away. Authorities said four houses had been struck in the south of the city and three in the centre.

Residents said the bombing was the heaviest since an Israeli raid on the city 10 days ago that freed two hostages and killed scores of civilians.

“We couldn’t sleep, the sounds of explosions and planes roaring overhead didn’t stop,” said Jehad Abuemad, 34, who lives with his family in a tent. “We could hear children crying in nearby tents, people here are desperate and defenceless.”

The head of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) told the United Nations Security Council in New York that children who survive the war will not only bear the visible wounds of traumatic injuries, but the invisible ones too.

“These psychological injuries have led children as young as five to tell us that they would prefer to die,” said Christopher Lockyear.

Israel launched its campaign in Gaza after Hamas militants who control the territory stormed through Israeli towns on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages according to Israeli tallies.

Since then, nearly 30,000 people have been confirmed killed in Gaza, according to health authorities, with thousands more feared dead, unrecovered under ruins.


Israel has threatened to launch a full-blown attack on Rafah, the last city at Gaza’s southern edge, despite international pleas – including from its main ally Washington – for restraint.

Residents who have fled to Rafah from elsewhere say there is nowhere left to go. Meanwhile, an already meagre aid flow has almost completely dried up.

Talks to reach a ceasefire failed two weeks ago, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a counteroffer from Hamas for a four-and-a-half month truce that would end with an Israeli withdrawal.

Hamas, still believed to be holding more than 100 hostages, says it will not free them unless Israel agrees to end fighting and withdraw. Israel says it will not pull out until Hamas is eradicated.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas official, told Reuters that Israel was now backtracking on terms the country had accepted weeks ago in a ceasefire offer hammered out with U.S., Egyptian and Qatari mediators.

“The occupation is not interested in achieving any agreement,” he said, accusing Netanyahu of ignoring the issue of freeing captives in a prisoner swap. “All he is concerned about is continuing the execution of Palestinians in Gaza.”

There was no immediate response from Israeli officials. Netanyahu has said he would not agree to Hamas’ “delusional demands”, but that if the group were to show flexibility progress would be possible.

In one of the first indications of how Israel sees Gaza being run after the war, a senior Israeli official said Israel was looking for Palestinians with no links to either Hamas or the rival Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank, to set up a civil administration in “humanitarian pockets” of Gaza.

“We’re looking for the right people to step up to the plate,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “But it is clear that this will take time, as no one will come forward if they think Hamas will put a bullet in their head.”

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The plan was dismissed by Palestinians, including both Hamas and the umbrella Palestinian Liberation Organisation of its main rivals, as an unworkable formula for Israeli occupation.

TAGS: Gaza, Israel, War

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