Israel says heavy fighting in south Gaza, as Paris meeting seeks halt

Israel says heavy fighting in south Gaza, as Paris meeting seeks halt
Israel says heavy fighting in south Gaza, as Paris meeting seeks halt

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - A picture taken from southern Israel along the border with the Gaza Strip shows Israeli soldiers ontop their tanks at a position upon their return from a mission in the Palestinian territory on January 28, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group. — AFP pic

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES, Jan 29 — Israeli forces yesterday fought “intensive battles” with Hamas militants in southern Gaza, the army said, as the CIA’s chief met with Israeli, Egyptian and Qatari officials for ceasefire talks.

Three United States troops were killed by a drone strike in the Jordan-Syria border area. It was the first loss of American military lives to hostile fire since the war began, further raising fears of broader conflict.

As fighting raged, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pleaded for continued support for UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, which is threatened by a fierce row over alleged staff involvement in Hamas’ October 7 attack that started the war.

Following the Israeli accusations, several of the agency’s top donors including the United States and Germany halted funding to UNRWA, which has been at the heart of humanitarian efforts in Gaza.

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Guterres called on donor states to guarantee the flow of vital aid to the besieged Gaza Strip, saying “the dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.”

The Israeli army reported heavy fighting in Gaza’s main southern city of Khan Yunis, the current focus of the battle.

The health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory said at least 24 people were killed Yesterday in Israeli strikes on Khan Yunis, where the sound of gunfire reverberated throughout the day.

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An Israeli air strike on a house in north Gaza’s Shati refugee camp killed 10 people, the ministry said late yesterday, after the Israeli army reported strikes in the north and centre of Gaza.

William Burns, the Central Intelligence Agency director, met in Paris with top Egyptian, Israeli and Qatari officials.

Israel reported “constructive” discussions. A statement from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “significant gaps” remained and more talks were expected in the coming days.

A security source had confirmed to AFP that United States President Joe Biden was sending Burns to try to negotiate the release of remaining Hamas-held Israeli hostages in exchange for a ceasefire.

‘There will be famine’

More than three months of war have led to a spiralling humanitarian crisis and mass displacement. The UN says more than one million people are squeezed into an area near the Egyptian border.

Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories, warned that suspending UNRWA funding “overtly defies” an order issued Friday by the International Court of Justice to allow more aid into Gaza.

The UN’s top court also said Israel must prevent genocidal acts in its war with Hamas, but stopped short of calling for an end to the fighting.

UNRWA on Friday said it had fired several employees over Israel’s accusations that some of its staff were involved in the October 7 attack, which resulted in about 1,140 deaths, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Militants also seized around 250 hostages, of whom Israel says around 132 remain in Gaza, including the bodies of at least 28 dead captives.

Israel vowed to destroy Hamas in response. Its military offensive has killed at least 26,422 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Bassam al-Masry, displaced from north Gaza to Rafah in the far south, said if aid was cut off it would be “a major disaster” and “there will be famine.”

Guterres said the “abhorrent alleged acts” of some UNRWA staff should not mean that its thousands of other humanitarian workers should be penalised.

“I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations,” Guterres said.

‘Lifeline’

The agency’s chief, Philippe Lazzarini, warned in a social media post that funding cuts meant its operation in Gaza was close to collapse.

Israel’s envoy to the UN, Gilad Erdan, charged that funding for UNRWA “will be used for terrorism” and urged donors to await “a comprehensive investigation of the organisation”.

Norway, “a major donor to UNRWA... has decided to continue its funding”, Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide announced in a statement.

He said Oslo “expects full transparency” from the agency while stressing that “UNRWA is a lifeline” for many Gazans.

“We should not collectively punish millions of people.”

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on social media platform X that “cutting off funding will only hurt the people of Gaza who desperately need support”.

The Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Israel, where aid is inspected and sent into Gaza, was blocked yesterday by protesters including the families of hostages, Israeli officials said.

In another protest, thousands of advocates of Israel’s resettlement of Gaza, including some far-right cabinet ministers, gathered in Jerusalem yesterday and urged Netanyahu to make their contentious dream a reality.

The prime minister in official statements has rejected resettlement in the Palestinian territory.

He has also faced mounting demonstrations, and calls for early elections, over his failure to bring home most of the hostages.

US President Biden blamed Iran-backed militants for the deadly strike on American forces, which the military’s Central Command said wounded 25 others.

Since Israel’s war against Iran-backed Hamas began, a loose alliance of Iran-linked armed groups has claimed many of the dozens of attacks that have targeted US and allied troops in Iraq and Syria. The foreign troops are part of an anti-jihadist coalition. — AFP

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