Thursday, July 18, 2024

Gaza battles rage as mediators push for truce deal, martyrs toll at 38,193

Gaza battles rage as mediators push for truce deal, martyrs toll at 38,193
July 8, 2024 Web Desk

GAZA, Palestine (AFP) - Heavy battles raged in Gaza City on Monday as Hamas and Israel staked their claims ahead of truce talks, with Israeli protesters rallying for a hostage release deal.

The Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said at least 38,193 people have been killed in the war between Israel and Palestinian militants, now in its tenth month. The toll includes at least 40 deaths over the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said. It added that 87,903 people have been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7.

Mediators Egypt and Qatar were due to host new talks this week, according to officials, as the bloodiest ever Gaza war raged on into its 10th month. Israeli troops and tanks were engaged in heavy clashes with Palestinian militants in Gaza City as fighter jets and drones crossed the skies over the besieged territory. Thousands of civilians were on the move again in northern Gaza, while clashes rocked the southern cities of Khan Yunis and Rafah in the conflict sparked by Hamas's October 7 attack.

Cairo and Doha have resumed diplomatic efforts to halt the fighting, aiming for an initial six-week ceasefire that would see some hostages in Gaza freed in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails as talks would continue for a comprehensive deal to end the war.

Hamas has signalled it would drop its insistence on a "complete" ceasefire, a demand Israel has repeatedly rejected. A top Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP on Sunday that mediators had offered assurances "that as long as the... negotiations continued, the ceasefire would continue".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office set out its aims for the talks, saying in a statement that "any deal will allow Israel to return and fight until all the goals of the war are achieved". Israel also wants measures to stop weapons crossing the Egyptian border and to stop Hamas militants moving around Gaza, Netanyahu's office said. Netanyahu has vowed to achieve the twin goals of bringing home the captives and destroying Hamas. His hard-right political allies have threatened to bolt the government if he agrees to stop the fighting before then.

Evacuation order

The Israeli military on Monday reported more clashes in Gaza City and in the territory's south, saying its troops had killed dozens of enemy fighters and destroyed tunnels and rocket launch sites. In Gaza City's Shujaiya district, where battles have raged for nearly two weeks, it said it had "eliminated dozens" of militants including in air strikes, while in Rafah troops and aircraft had "operated to eliminate more than 30 terrorists".

Thousands of Palestinians fled a new evacuation order for parts of Gaza City as Israeli troops and tanks again pushed into the Hamas-run territory's biggest city, according to witnesses and the civil defence agency. The agency reported "dozens of martyrs and wounded" across Gaza, saying rescuers were unable to reach some areas due to the intense fighting.

An air strike on Sunday on a church-run school in Gaza City, used as a shelter by displaced Palestinians, killed at least four people, said the civil defence agency. It came a day after a deadly attack on a UN-run school turned shelter in the central Nuseirat refugee camp. A Hamas senior official on Monday accused the hawkish Israeli premier of stepping up combat and bombardment in Gaza in order to derail the latest truce effort.

"Whenever a round of negotiations begins and a breakthrough is within reach, he disrupts it all and escalates the aggression and massacres against civilians," the Hamas official charged, speaking on condition of anonymity. In Israel, large demonstrations demanding a hostage release deal were held on Saturday and Sunday in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and were to continue this week. "Our message to the government is very simple," said demonstrator Yehuda Cohen, the father of kidnapped soldier Nimrod Cohen. "There is a deal on the table. Take it."