Biden hopeful Gaza truce to begin next week

Published February 28, 2024
DEMONSTRATORS carry placards reading ‘We’ve got blood on our hands’ during a protest demanding immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the release of prisoners, in Tel Aviv, on Tuesday.—AFP
DEMONSTRATORS carry placards reading ‘We’ve got blood on our hands’ during a protest demanding immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the release of prisoners, in Tel Aviv, on Tuesday.—AFP

GAZA STRIP: A new ceasefire between Israel and Hamas could start as soon as March 4 and last through Ramazan, US President Joe Biden said on Monday about an expected deal that would also free Israeli prisoners held in Gaza.

In the protracted bid to broker a truce, mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been putting proposals to the parties, with negotiations still ongoing.

They are seeking a six-week halt to the fighting and the release of prisoners.

The truce deal could include the release of several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel, media reports suggested.

“My hope is by next Monday (March 4) we’ll have a ceasefire,” Biden said in reply to a question about when a truce might start, adding: “We’re close, we’re not done yet.”

Negotiators propose six-week pause in fighting and a deal to exchange prisoners

He later said an agreement “in principle” was in reach for a temporary truce to last through Ramazan.

Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, whose country hosts Hamas leaders and helped broker a one-week truce in November, arrived in Paris on Tuesday.

Sheikh Tamim has met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Doha as part of his bid for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire agreement”, the official Qatar News Agency said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stressed that any truce would delay, not prevent, a ground invasion of Rafah in the far south of the Gaza Strip.

There has been huge international pressure, including from the United States, for Israel to hold off on sending troops into Rafah, where an estimated 1.4 million Palestinian civilians have sought refuge.

Netanyahu’s office said on Monday that the Israeli military had shown the “war cabinet” its plan for moving civilians out from Rafah, but no details have been released on where those displaced people might go.

Final nail in coffin

UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that any assault on Rafah, the entry point to Gaza for desperately needed relief supplies, would “put the final nail in the coffin” of aid operations. “Nothing can justify Hamas’s deliberate killing, injuring, torturing and kidnapping of civilians” and “nothing justifies the collective punishment of the Palestinian people,” Guterres said on Monday.

‘Targeted raids’

Israel carried out more than 50 strikes on Tuesday, with Rafah and the other main southern city of Khan Yunis among the main targets.

The Israeli army said troops had carried out “targeted raids” in the Zeitun neighbourhood of central Gaza and other areas.

The Israelis have killed 29,878 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry.

Starving Gazans

In northern Gaza, desperate Palestinians have scavenged for food as most aid trucks have been halted, with many people eating animal fodder and even leaves.

“We have no flour or anything. We are experiencing famine,” lamented Umm Tahse­ini Al Masry, a Palestinian displaced to the Jabalia refugee camp, north of Gaza City.

The Jordanian army said it carried out a series of humanitarian aid drops, while Human Rights Watch accused the Israeli government of starving Gaza’s 2.4 million people.

The UNRWA said humanitarian assistance entering Gaza has halved this month from January. Israeli officials say they are allowing aid into Gaza, but relief supplies have hit a logjam inside the territory..

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2024

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