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Israel ‘set to join peace talks in Paris’ but continue offensive plans

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Israel will send negotiators on Friday to truce talks in Paris, according to Israeli media, as Gazan civilians hope for a ceasefire that could hold off a full-blown Israeli assault on Rafah.

Israel’s Channel 12 television reported on Thursday that the war cabinet approved sending negotiators, led by the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, to the French capital for talks on a potential deal to free more than 100 hostages whom Palestinian militant group Hamas is believed to be holding.

The head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, has been in Egypt this week in the strongest sign in weeks that negotiations remain alive.

Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said: “We will expand the authority given to our hostage negotiators” while preparing to continue intense ground operations.

In Rafah, where over half of the enclave’s 2.3 million people are huddled, mostly in tents, mourners wept on Thursday over at least seven corpses in body bags, laid on cobbles outside a morgue. Gaza health authorities said at least 120 people were confirmed killed and 130 wounded in the last 24 hours of Israeli assaults, but many more victims were still under rubble.

Residents said bombing on Wednesday night had been the heaviest since an Israeli raid on the city 10 days ago that freed two hostages and killed scores of civilians. Gaza health authorities later added a bombardment in the central Gaza Strip killed a further 23.

In Khan Younis, the territory’s principal battlefield since Israel launched an assault on the city last month, Israeli forces raided Nasser Medical Complex, shortly after withdrawing from it, the Palestinian enclave’s health ministry said.

The World Health Organization had said it aimed to evacuate some of the 140 patients stranded there, where Palestinian officials said bodies of dead patients had begun to decompose amid power cuts and fighting. Israel gave no immediate comment.

The head of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) told the UN Security Council in New York that children who survive the conflict will not only bear the visible wounds of traumatic injuries but the invisible ones too. “These psychological injuries have led children as young as five to tell us that they would prefer to die,” said Christopher Lockyear.

Israel launched its campaign in Gaza after Hamas militants who control the territory stormed through Israeli towns on October 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages according to Israeli tallies.

Since then, nearly 30,000 people have been confirmed killed in Gaza, according to health authorities, with thousands more feared dead, unrecovered under ruins.

Peace talks

Israel has threatened to launch a full-blown attack on Rafah, the last city at Gaza’s southern edge, despite international pleas – including from its main ally Washington – for restraint.

Residents who have fled to Rafah from elsewhere say there is nowhere left to go. Meanwhile, an already meagre aid flow has almost completely dried up.

Talks to reach a ceasefire failed two weeks ago, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a counteroffer from Hamas for a four-and-a-half-month truce that would end with an Israeli withdrawal. Hamas, still believed to be holding more than 100 hostages, says it will not free them unless Israel agrees to end fighting and withdraw. Israel says it will not pull out until Hamas is eradicated.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas official, said Israel was now backtracking on terms the country had accepted weeks ago in a ceasefire offer hammered out with U.S., Egyptian and Qatari mediators.

“The occupation is not interested in achieving any agreement,” he said, accusing Netanyahu of ignoring the issue of freeing captives in a prisoner swap. “All he is concerned about is continuing the execution of Palestinians in Gaza.”

Netanyahu has said he would not agree to Hamas’ ‘delusional demands’ but that if the group were to show flexibility then progress would be possible.

In one of the first indications of how Israel sees Gaza being run after the conflict, a senior Israeli official said Israel was looking for Palestinians with no links to either Hamas or the rival Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank, to set up a civil administration in ‘humanitarian pockets’ of Gaza.

“We’re looking for the right people to step up to the plate,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “But it is clear that this will take time, as no one will come forward if they think Hamas will put a bullet in their head.”

The plan was dismissed by Palestinians, including both Hamas and the umbrella Palestinian Liberation Organisation of its main rivals, as an unworkable formula for Israeli occupation.

Source(s): CGTN

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Israeli strikes intensify across Gaza, army urges evacuation

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Israel on Tuesday ordered residents of the city of Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate “urgently” ahead of a new planned onslaught in the area.

“You are in a dangerous combat zone,” Avichay Adraee, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), wrote on the social media platform X.

He stated that the army has an imminent plan to “act with great force” against militant infrastructure in the area.

Israeli attacks intensified on Tuesday, with reports of strikes in the northern regions, where the IDF had previously pulled back some of its forces, as well as in central and southern areas.

Several air strikes and ground shelling were reported in the central and southern areas of the Gaza Strip, as residents described almost non-stop bombardment, according to Reuters.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry said on Tuesday in a press statement that the Israeli army killed 32 Palestinians and wounded 59 others during the past 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 34,183 and injuries to 77,143 since the Israel-Hamas conflict broke out on October 7, 2023.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Hezbollah group announced on Tuesday that it had struck Israeli bases north of the city of Acre with a drone, in its deepest strike into Israeli territory since the conflict began.

According to the Israeli military, it was unaware of any of its facilities being targeted by Hezbollah, but had stated earlier on Tuesday that it had intercepted two “aerial targets” off Israel’s northern coast.

Satellite photos analyzed by the Associated Press appear to show a new compound of tents being built near Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip as the Israeli military signals that it plans an offensive on the city of Rafah. But a Palestinian health official later said the tent camp was being set up to house displaced people who are currently sheltering in a hospital and is not related to any impending military operation.

Khan Younis has been targeted by repeated Israeli military operations over recent weeks. According to an AP report on Tuesday, Israel said it has planned to evacuate civilians from Rafah during an anticipated offensive on the southern city, where hundreds of thousands of people have taken refuge during the conflict.

More than 1 million residents in the Gaza Strip have lost their homes and 75 percent of the population have been displaced since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas conflict 200 days ago, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said on Tuesday.

“Destruction is everywhere in Gaza. Damage to critical infrastructure is immense,” UNRWA wrote in a post on X.

In a recorded speech marking the 200th day of the conflict, Abu Ubaida, spokesperson for the Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, accused Israel of impeding mediation efforts for a ceasefire.

Israeli media reported on Monday that preparations were underway to expand the humanitarian zone in the Gaza Strip ahead of a possible Israeli attack on the southernmost Gazan city of Rafah.

Rafah is the last refuge for more than 1.4 million Palestinians who were displaced from the northern and central parts of the Gaza Strip.

Source(s): CGTN

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Biden tells Zelenskyy new arms will be provided quickly to Ukraine

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U.S. President Joe Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy over phone on Monday that his administration will soon quickly provide additional arms to Ukraine once a bill authorizing related funds clears Congress and becomes law.

“President Biden shared that his administration will quickly provide significant new security assistance packages to meet Ukraine’s urgent battlefield and air defense needs as soon as the Senate passes the national security supplemental and he signs it into law,” the White House said in a readout of the call.

Biden was referring to the $61 billion aid for Ukraine that the House passed Saturday. The measure, now bundled with other foreign aid funding, will be voted on as a comprehensive national security supplemental appropriations bill in the Senate this week, with passage all but certain and Biden pledging to sign it as soon as it reaches his desk.

“President Biden also underscored that the U.S. economic assistance will help maintain financial stability, build back critical infrastructure,” the readout said, adding that the economic assistance will also “support reform as Ukraine moves forward on the path of Euro-Atlantic integration.”

Zelenskyy said on Telegram that the new aid from Washington is expected to strengthen Ukraine’s air defense as well as its long-range and artillery capabilities.

The Ukrainian president also discussed with Biden the work on a bilateral security agreement and the preparations for the Global Peace Summit in Switzerland slated for mid-June, he said.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on X on Saturday that senators have reached an agreement to vote on the national security supplemental on Tuesday.

Source(s): CGTN

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Israel ups pressure on Hamas as UNICEF decries child deaths in Gaza

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday vowed to ramp up military pressure on Hamas, despite the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warning last week that one child was being killed or injured every 10 minutes in the Gaza Strip.

“With one child killed or injured every 10 minutes (in Gaza), above anything else, we need a ceasefire. It is the only way to stop the killing and maiming of children,” UNICEF Communication Specialist Tess Ingram said during a press briefing in Geneva on April 16.

With no breakthrough yet in truce talks between Israel and Hamas, Netanyahu pledged to intensify the military crackdown in Hamas in a video address. “We will strike it with additional painful blows – and this will happen soon,” he said without elaborating on the time and place.

“In the coming days we will increase the military and political pressure on Hamas because this is the only way to free our hostages and achieve our victory.”

The prime minister’s latest remarks came a day after U.S. lawmakers approved $13 billion in new military aid to Israel, even as global criticism mounts over the dire humanitarian crisis in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu also condemned an anticipated U.S. sanction against a unit of its army forces. “If anyone thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), I will fight it with all my might.”

The Biden administration is slated to announce sanctions against the IDF’s Netzah Yehuda battalion for alleged human rights abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank, which would be the first time the U.S. has ever taken such a step.

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz also urged U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a phone call to reconsider potential sanctions against an Israeli military unit, his office said on Sunday.

Gantz told Blinken that the move would harm Israel’s legitimacy in time of the ongoing Gaza conflict, asserting that “it has no justification because Israel has a strong and independent judicial system.”

Two U.S. officials familiar with the situation said the U.S. announcement could come as soon as Monday, AP reported.

The officials told AP that about five Israeli units were investigated and all but one had been found to have taken action to remedy the violations. The Leahy Law, named for former Senator Patrick Leahy, bars U.S. aid from going to foreign military units that have committed human rights abuses.

The U.S. review was launched before the Israel-Hamas conflict and not connected to recent Israeli actions inside Gaza or the West Bank.

The incidents that were the subject of allegations took place in the West Bank and mostly occurred before the Israel-Hamas conflict, the outlet said.

Before the Gaza conflict, violence had already been on the rise in the West Bank and it has risen since with frequent Israeli raids, Palestinian street attacks and settler rampages in Palestinian villages.

Source(s): CGTN

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