Prospects dim for truce as Israel rejects calls to spare Rafah

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES, Feb 19 — Israel’s army pressed yesterday with its campaign in southern Gaza to destroy Hamas as prospects dimmed for a ceasefire in the more than four-month-old war.

A total of 127 people died in 24 hours, Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry said, as the main battlefront edged closer to far-southern Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinians live in crowded shelters and tent camps.

Israel’s top ally the United States signalled it would veto the latest push for a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire, as Washington instead favours a temporary truce and hostage release deal.

And mediator Qatar acknowledged that separate ceasefire talks had also hit an impasse after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected some Hamas demands as “ludicrous”.

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Israel has concentrated its military operations in Khan Yunis, the hometown of Hamas’ Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, whom it accuses of masterminding the October 7 attack.

Netanyahu has rejected calls to spare Rafah, arguing that failing to launch the operation would mean to “lose the war”, while the military says it is working to move civilians from the area to minimise casualties.

Israel’s government unanimously adopted a declaration rejecting the recognition of a Palestinian state.

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“After the terrible massacre of October 7, there can be no greater reward for terrorism than that and it will prevent any future peace settlement,” Netanyahu said.

The latest strikes and fighting killed at least 10 people in Rafah and in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah overnight, said the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

At the morgue of a Rafah hospital, mourners bent down to give a final kiss to a loved one wrapped in a white body bag.

“That’s my cousin — he was martyred in Al-Mawasi, in the ‘safe area’,” said Ahmad Mohammed Aburizq. “And my mother was martyred the day before.

“There’s no safe place. Even the hospital is not safe.”

‘Moment of truth’

The Gaza war began with Hamas’ October 7 attack which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom are still in Gaza, including 30 who are presumed dead, according to Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza have killed at least 28,985 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva accused Israel yesterday of committing “genocide” in Gaza and compared its actions to Adolf Hitler’s campaign to exterminate Jews — comments that sparked a strong Israeli protest.

Netanyahu accused Lula of having “disgraced the memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and demonised the Jewish state like the most virulent anti-Semite”.

He said the Brazilian leader “should be ashamed of himself” and that his government had called in Brasilia’s ambassador in protest.

Hamas however praised Lula, saying his remarks were “an accurate description” of what the people in Gaza are facing.

Yesterday the military said it had killed around 35 militants and struck a “weapons storage facility”, while an air strike in central Gaza killed “over 10” militants.

In Tel Aviv, thousands took to the streets Saturday against Netanyahu’s government, accusing it of abandoning the hostages and calling for immediate elections.

“This is the moment of truth. There won’t be many more like it if the Cairo initiative collapses,” demanded Nissan Calderon, brother of hostage Ofer Calderon.

‘Not very promising’

Next week’s possible Security Council vote appears unlikely to advance the ceasefire effort, with Washington already voicing opposition.

“The United States does not support action on this draft resolution,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations. “Should it come up for a vote as drafted, it will not be adopted.”

Algeria’s draft resolution seeks an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, but Thomas-Greenfield said the United States instead supports a truce-for-hostages deal that would pause fighting for six weeks.

US President Joe Biden had “multiple calls” with Netanyahu as well as Egyptian and Qatari leaders this week “to push this deal forward”, she said.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani called those talks “not very promising”.

He said the efforts had been complicated by the insistence of “a lot of countries” that any new truce involve further releases of hostages.

Hamas has threatened to suspend its involvement in the talks unless relief supplies reach Gaza’s north, where aid agencies have warned of looming famine.

‘Horror movie’

“Negotiations cannot be held while hunger is ravaging the Palestinian people,” a senior source in the Palestinian militant group told AFP.

Yesterday morning, dozens of Israelis blocked aid trucks bound for Gaza from entering through the Nitzana crossing between Israel and Egypt, AFP reporters and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said.

One of the protesters, Nili Naouri, said it was “immoral” to send aid “to people who support Hamas... We are at war”.

Israel’s military said troops in Khan Yunis were yesterday still operating “in the Nasser Hospital” and adjacent to it where they “located additional weapons”.

Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said Israeli troops had turned Nasser Hospital “into a military barracks”.

He said seven patients had died since Friday due to a lack of oxygen because of power outages.

Dr Ahmad Moghrabi, head of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the hospital, told AFP Israeli forces had forced people out of the facility during the Thursday raid, accusing the forces of beating and stripping staff down.

“Nothing remains in Khan Yunis... it is like a horror movie. No streets, no buildings... only dead bodies all around,” he said.

Israeli army spokesman Richard Hecht said diesel and oxygen supplies were delivered Saturday to the facility and a temporary generator was operating.

In the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces killed two Palestinian men, aged 19 and 36, during a raid in a refugee camp yesterday, the Palestinian health ministry said. — AFP

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