MALMO (Sweden): Handala, a boat carrying humanitarian aid for Gazans, arrives on Wednesday, ahead of a song contest being held at this port city to show solidarity with the 30,000 demonstrators protesting against Israel’s participation in Eurovision. The vessel, run by the NGO Ship to Gaza, had earlier departed Norway to challenge and break the inhumane blockade of Gaza and to shed light on the consequences of Israeli actions against Palestinian children.—AFP
MALMO (Sweden): Handala, a boat carrying humanitarian aid for Gazans, arrives on Wednesday, ahead of a song contest being held at this port city to show solidarity with the 30,000 demonstrators protesting against Israel’s participation in Eurovision. The vessel, run by the NGO Ship to Gaza, had earlier departed Norway to challenge and break the inhumane blockade of Gaza and to shed light on the consequences of Israeli actions against Palestinian children.—AFP

• Negotiations resume in Cairo with Hamas calling latest round ‘decisive’
• US pauses shipment of 3,500 heavy-duty bombs amid Israeli incursion

GAZA STRIP: Medical teams found a third mass grave inside Al-Shifa hospital and a seventh mass grave across Gaza hospitals, with the recovery of 49 bodies from the premises, as Israel bombarded Rafah on Wednesday amid the ongoing negotiations in Cairo and Doha for ceasefire and prisoner swap.

Israel has defied international objections and sent tanks into Rafah, which is crowded with Palestinian civilians sheltering near the Egyptian border, seizing on Tuesday a crossing that is the main conduit for aid into the besieged territory.

The White House condemned the interruption to humanitarian deliveries, with a senior US official later revealing Washington had paused a shipment of bombs last week after Israel failed to address concerns over its long-threatened Rafah operation.

However, the Israeli military claimed on Wednesday it was reopening a major aid crossing into Gaza, Kerem Shalom, as well as the Erez crossing. But the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said the Kerem Shalom crossing remained closed.

The Israeli military did not immediately comment on the third mass grave, as footage from Al-Shifa hospital showed at least a dozen bodies wrapped in black plastic body bags.

Standing in front of the ruins of the hospital, Motassem Salah, head of the emergency department at Al-Shifa, said several of the bodies had decomposed.

Last month, around 30 bodies were reported found buried in two other graves in the hospital courtyard.

After the Israeli assault in March, the World Health Organisation said Al-Shifa had been reduced to ashes, leaving behind an “empty shell” with many bodies.

On Wednesday, Gaza authorities said health workers continued to uncover bodies from the complex. So far, 520 bodies have been recovered from “seven mass graves” found at three different hospitals across Gaza in recent weeks, the media office said.

Since the escalation of attacks by Israeli forces in Gaza in October 2023, at least 34,844 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Cairo talks resume

On the other hand, talks aimed at agreeing a ceasefire resumed in Cairo on Wednesday “in the presence of all parties”, Egyptian state-linked media reported.

A senior Hamas official said the latest round of negotiations would be “decisive”.

Hamas “insists on the rightful demands of its people and will not give up any of our people’s rights,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly on the negotiations.

He had previously warned it would be Israel’s “last chance” to free the scores of prisoners.

However, the Israeli forces continued to conduct air and ground assault in Gaza and Rafah, after capturing Rafah crossing.

Incursion condemned

Meanwhile, Qatar, which hosts Hamas leaders and has been mediating between the two sides, appealed “for urgent international action to prevent Rafah from being invaded and a crime of genocide being committed”.

A Palestinian analyst said Israel’s seizure of the Rafah crossing could be an attempt to create new facts on the ground, or a bid to “sabotage the truce talks”.

Israel’s seizure of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing came after Hamas said it had accepted a truce proposal — one Israel said was “far” from what its own negotiators had previously agreed to.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Rafah operation as “a very important step” in denying Hamas a passage that was essential for establishing its influence.

Bombs shipment stopped

Hours later, a senior US administration official speaking on condition of anonymity said Washington had “paused one shipment of weapons last week” after Israel failed to address its concerns over the Rafah incursion, which the United States has vocally opposed. The shipment consisted of over 3,500 heavy-duty bombs, the official said.

It was the first time President Joe Biden, whose government is Israel’s top provider of military assistance, had acted on a warning he gave to Netanyahu in April.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2024

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