Saturday, June 22, 2024

Baghdad

Israel says ready to resume truce talks as Gaza war grinds on

 Israel says ready to resume truce talks as Gaza war grinds on

Map of UN member states recognising the State of Palestine, as of May 22, 2024

Jerusalem – Israel bombed Gaza on Thursday even as it said it was ready to resume stalled talks on a truce and hostage release deal with Hamas to pause the war raging since October 7.

Global pressure for a ceasefire has mounted on Israel and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as three European countries said Wednesday they would recognise a Palestinian state.

The week started with the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court seeking arrest warrants over war crimes against Netanyahu and his defence minister as well as three Hamas leaders.

Israel has angrily rejected those moves, voicing “disgust” over the ICC move and labelling a recognition of the State of Palestine now a “reward for terrorism”.

But domestic pressure has also risen as supporters of hostages trapped in war-torn Gaza again rallied outside Netanyahu’s office, passionately demanding steps to free them.

A newly released video showed five female Israeli soldiers, tied up and some with bloodied faces, in the hands of Palestinian militants during the attack more than seven months ago.

The three-minute clip, taken from a militant’s body camera footage, was released by the Hostage and Missing Families Forum on Wednesday after the Israeli army lifted censorship on it.

“The footage reveals the violent, humiliating and traumatising treatment the girls endured on the day of their abduction, their eyes filled with raw terror,” the forum said.

Netanyahu vowed to continue fighting Hamas to “ensure what we have seen tonight never happens again”, and more bombardment rained down overnight on targets in the devastated Gaza Strip.

But his office also said that the war cabinet had asked the Israeli negotiating team “to continue negotiations for the return of the hostages”.

– Bleak assessment –

The previous round of truce talks, involving US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators, ended shortly after Israel launched its attack on Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah early this month.

Israel went ahead with the assault on the last Gaza city so far spared a major ground offensive in defiance of global opposition, including from top ally the United States.

Washington voiced concerns that 1.4 million Palestinians who had been trapped in crowded tent cities and shelters there would be caught in the line of fire.

Israel has since ordered mass evacuations from the city, and the UN says more than 800,000 people have fled.

US President Joe Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, said Wednesday the Rafah operation “has been more targeted and limited” than feared and “has not involved major military operations into the heart of dense urban areas”.

But he stopped short of saying that Israel had addressed US concerns, adding that Washington was closely watching ongoing Israeli actions.

Israel’s National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi has meanwhile given a bleak assessment of the war so far to a meeting of the parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee, according to a report by Israel’s Channel 13.

He reportedly said that Israel has “not achieved any of the strategic aims of the war -– not conditions for a hostage deal, we haven’t toppled Hamas, and we haven’t allowed residents of the (Gaza) periphery to return safely home”.

– ‘Cycles of violence’ –

The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7 resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,709 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Heavy fighting raged again in Gaza, where an AFP team reported fresh strikes early Thursday around Rafah.

Troops in the city had “dismantled a number of tunnel shafts and launchers in the area, and eliminated several terrorists during close-quarters encounters,” said the military.

Urban combat has also flared again in northern areas, including Jabalia, which Israeli forces first entered several months ago.

Israeli forces there “targeted several Hamas terrorists during strikes on military compounds” and located AK-47 and sniper rifles, grenades and other weaponry, the military said.

Israel has also imposed a siege that has deprived Gaza’s 2.4 million people of most drinking water, food, medical and fuel supplies.

The sporadic arrival of aid by truck slowed further after Israeli forces took control of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Jordan and others have kept up aid airdrops, and relief goods have been shipped in via a US-built pier, but many trucks were quickly swarmed by desperate crowds.  

Israel has faced ever greater opposition to the bloody war around the world, and pro-Palestinian protests have swept US and other university campuses.

Israel reacted with fury after Ireland, Norway and Spain said they would recognise a Palestinian state on May 28, a move praised by Palestinians and across the Arab world.

Israel recalled its envoys to Dublin, Oslo and Madrid and summoned their ambassadors for a rebuke.

Most Western governments say they are willing to recognise Palestinian statehood one day, but not before thorny issues such as final borders and the status of Jerusalem are settled.

The White House said Biden opposed unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, saying it should be realised “through direct negotiations”.

Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris called the October 7 attack “barbaric” but stressed that “a two-state solution is the only way out of the generational cycles of violence”.