Fighting rages across Gaza amid revival of truce talks

By Nidal al-Mughrabi for Reuters

Israeli strikes killed 77 Palestinians in Gaza in the past 24 hours, health authorities said on Sunday, as Egypt hosted an Israeli delegation for a new round of talks in a bid to secure a truce with Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

The Israeli military said it killed a senior Islamic Jihad militant in a strike on a command centre in the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Hospital in central Gaza. It did not mention his name or rank.

“The command centre and terrorists were struck precisely, the military said, adding it was intended to minimise “harm to uninvolved civilians in the area of the hospital”.

“The Al-Aqsa Hospital building was not damaged and its functioning was not affected.”

There was no immediate comment from Islamic Jihad, a militant group and ally of Hamas.

Palestinian health officials and Hamas media said the strike hit several tents inside the Al-Aqsa Hospital, killing four people and wounding several, including five journalists.

Palestinians are checking the damage at a makeshift camp for displaced people in front of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, after it was hit by an Israeli bombardment on March 31, 2024, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Hamas militant group. (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto) (Photo by MAJDI FATHI / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP)

More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s military offensive in Gaza since 7 October, according to the health authorities. Health officials say most of the fatalities are civilians, while Israel said at least a third are fighters.

The war erupted after Hamas militants broke through the border and rampaged through communities in southern Israel, killing 1200 people and abducting 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

The two sides have stepped up negotiations, mediated by Qatar and Egypt, on a six-week suspension of Israel’s offensive in return for the proposed release of 40 of 130 hostages still held by Hamas militants in Gaza after their 7 October attack on southern Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Sunday to keep up military pressure on Hamas, while showing flexibility in the talks, saying that only that combination would bring about the release of some 130 hostages still held incommunicado in Gaza.

Hamas said any deal must secure an end to the fighting and withdrawal of Israeli forces. Israel has ruled this out, saying it would eventually resume efforts to dismantle the governing and military capabilities of Hamas.

Hamas would not be present at the talks in Cairo, an official told Reuters on Sunday, as it waited to hear from mediators on whether a new Israeli offer was on the table.

In the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, Israeli forces continued to blockade the two main hospitals, and tanks shelled areas in the middle and eastern areas of the territory.

Palestinian health officials said an Israeli air strike killed nine people in Bani Suhaila near Khan Younis, while another air strike killed four people in Al-Maghazi camp in the central Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military said it killed 15 gunmen in the central Gaza Strip and several more in Khan Younis, including near Al-Amal hospital.

In Gaza City, Israeli forces continued to operate inside Al Shifa Hospital, the territory’s biggest, the health ministry said. Residents living nearby said residential districts had been destroyed by Israeli forces near Al Shifa.

Palestinians mourn their relatives, killed in overnight Israeli bombardment, at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah on March 25, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (Photo by AFP)

“I went out looking to buy some medicine from a pharmacy and what I saw was heart-breaking. Complete streets with buildings that used to stand there had been destroyed,” said Abu Mustafa, 49.

“This is not war, this is genocide,” he told Reuters over the phone from Gaza City.

Facing fierce international pressure, Israel said it was doing all it can to minimise harm to civilians as it battles militants in an urban battlefield.

Netanyahu said that around 200 gunmen have so far been killed at Al Shifa hospital and that hundreds more had surrendered.

“No hospital in the world looks like this. This is what a house of terrorists looks like,” Netanyahu said at a news conference in Jerusalem.

Hamas denies having a military presence at the hospital and its spokespeople have said those killed there were civilians.

The Israeli military said that weapons were found at the hospital and that “Several compounds used to launch anti-tank missiles and where snipers operated were struck by IAF aircraft” in the Rimal neighbourhood near Shifa.

‘Leave us alone’

At Gaza City’s The Holy Family Church some Christian Palestinians took part in a sombre Easter service.

“My wish is that they leave us alone and that we go back to our lands and children,” said Winnie Tarazzi, a Gaza woman praying at the church.

Gaza’s population comprises an estimated 1000 Christians, most of whom are Greek Orthodox.

In the peace talks, Hamas also wants hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were displaced from Gaza City and surrounding areas southward during the first stage of the war to be allowed back north.

The World Court on Thursday unanimously ordered Israel, accused by South Africa of genocide in Gaza, to take all necessary and effective action to ensure basic food supplies to the population.

– This story was first published by Reuters

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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