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Israeli strikes kill nearly 100 in Gaza as negotiators head to Paris for ceasefire talks

Signalling a small sign of progress in the ongoing ceasefire talks, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said that the authority of its hostage negotiators will be expanded. Israel is sending negotiators to Paris on Friday as people in Gaza seek to avoid a military assault in Rafah.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Gaza Published on: February 23, 2024 10:43 IST
Israel Hamas war, Palestinians killed, ceasefire talks
Image Source : REUTERS Palestinians look at the site of a destroyed mosque in Gaza on Thursday.

Gaza: Israeli strikes have killed at least 97 people and wounded 130 others in southern and central Gaza in last 24 hours, according to the beleaguered Palestinian enclave's health officials on Thursday. This happened as tensions are rising in the Israeli-occupied West Bank after three gunmen opened fire on Thursday morning near a checkpoint, killing one Israeli and wounding five.

Gaza's Health Ministry estimates more than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed. The war has driven some 80 per cent of the territory's 2.3 million people from their homes. Most of them heeded Israeli orders to flee south and around 1.5 million are packed into Rafah near the border with Egypt.

Meanwhile, European diplomats are stepping up calls for a ceasefire, as alarm grows over the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. In a small sign of progress amid ongoing international efforts to broker a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, Yoav Gallant, Israel's defence minister, said Thursday that Israel "will expand the authority" of its hostage negotiators.

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. Later Israeli strikes killed 23 more people and their bodies were taken to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, the ministry said.

What is happening in ceasefire talks?

The comments by Yoav Gallant on expanded authority signal a small sign of progress in ongoing international efforts to broker a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas. On Wednesday, Benny Gantz, who sits on Israel's War Cabinet, confirmed that new cease-fire efforts were underway and said there were small hopes for moving forward. However, he repeated his stance that Israel will invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah if there isn't a hostage deal by the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Israel is seeking the release of the more than 100 hostages Hamas is holding in Gaza. Hamas wants an end to the Israeli offensive, a full withdrawal of Israeli forces and the release of Palestinian prisoners. Several European foreign ministers expressed concern on Thursday about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and said the plans for a Rafah operation would worsen the catastrophe.

Israel has identified Rafah, a city on the Egyptian border where over half of Gaza's population has sought refuge, as its next target. It says Rafah is the last remaining Hamas stronghold after nearly five months of fighting. 

Efforts are underway for peace talks, even as the US recently vetoed an Arab-backed UN resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war in the embattled Gaza Strip. The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 13-1 with the United Kingdom abstaining, reflecting the wide global support for ending the more than four-month war that started with Hamas’ surprise invasion of southern Israel that killed about 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage.

In a surprise move ahead of the vote, the United States circulated a rival UN Security Council resolution that would support a temporary cease-fire in Gaza linked to the release of all hostages, and call for the lifting of all restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian aid. Both of these actions “would help to create the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities,” the draft resolution said.

Israel to send negotiators to Paris

Israel will send negotiators on Friday to truce talks in Paris 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, according to Israeli media. The war cabinet led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 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 in Gaza.

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

In the night to Thursday, Israeli bombing flattened a mosque and destroyed homes in Rafah in a fierce surge of violence in the city. 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.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | One Israeli killed, 8 injured after gunmen open fire in West Bank amid boiling tensions


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