Israel intensifies Gaza military operations as US urges ceasefire

At least 44 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli military strikes in central Gaza Strip areas since Tuesday

Reuters June 05, 2024
An Israeli soldier stands in a tank, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, near the Israel-Gaza border, in Israel. PHOTO: REUTERS


Israel announced a new military campaign against Hamas in central Gaza on Wednesday and Palestinian medics said airstrikes there had killed dozens of people ahead of talks between US and Qatari mediators to try to finalise a ceasefire deal.

The armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they had fought gun battles with Israeli forces in areas throughout the enclave and fired anti-tank rockets and shells as the two sides sought the upper hand amid pressure to lay down their arms.

At least 44 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli military strikes in central Gaza Strip areas since Tuesday, health officials in the enclave said.

"The sounds of bombardment didn't stop all night," said Aya, 30, a displaced woman in Deir Al-Balah.

Two children were among the dead laid out on Wednesday. Mourners said they had been killed along with their mother, who had been unable to leave when others in the neighbourhood did.

Read also: Israeli bombardment leaves 19 dead in Gaza as ceasefire negotiations continue

"This is not war, it is destruction that words are unable to express," said their father Abu Mohammed Abu Saif.

The Israeli military said jets were hitting Hamas resistance targets in central Gaza while ground forces were operating "in a focused manner with guidance from intelligence" in the area of Al-Bureij - one of Gaza's long-established refugee settlements.

"The forces of the 98th Division began a precise campaign in the areas of East Bureij and East Deir al-Balah, above and below ground at the same time," an Israeli military statement said.

Residents said Israeli forces had sent tanks into Bureij and planes and tanks pounded the nearby settlements of Al-Maghazi and Al-Nuseirat as well as Deir Al-Balah city, where tanks have not invaded.

"Every time they speak about new truce talks, the occupation uses one town or refugee camp as a pressuring card. Why should civilians, people safe inside their homes or tents, pay the price? Why can't Arabs and the world stop the war?" Aya told Reuters via a chat app.

CIA Director Burns discusses ceasefire in Doha

Aya, like many in the Gaza Strip, said people held out hopes that reported talks between officials from the United States, Qatar, and Egypt in Doha on Wednesday would advance a ceasefire deal involving the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza and some of the Palestinians jailed in Israel.

CIA Director William Burns was meeting with Qatar's Prime Minister, an official briefed on the talks said.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday the administration was waiting for a response from Hamas through the Qatari mediators to a ceasefire proposal that US President Joe Biden revealed on Friday.

Qatar said on Tuesday that the proposal was now much closer to the positions of both sides.

Hamas has said it views the contents of the plan positively and has criticised Washington for what it described as attempts to blame the Palestinian group for hampering it.

Read: Doubts grow over Gaza truce plan as Israel-Hamas battles rage

But a spokesman for Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, reiterated on Tuesday it could not agree to any deal unless Israel makes a "clear" commitment to a permanent truce and complete withdrawal from Gaza. Israel says it cannot do that until Hamas is wiped out.

US officials say that since it is an Israeli plan, Israel is likely to accept it. Qatar has said Israel needs to give a clear position on the plan that represents the whole government, parts of which have opposed any kind of truce.

Also on Wednesday, the Hamas-allied Islamic Jihad group said a delegation led by its leader Ziad al-Nakhala arrived in Cairo for talks with Egyptian mediators on ways to "end the Zionist aggression on Gaza Strip and efforts to send aid."

Fighting continued in Rafah, the town on the border with Egypt which Israeli forces swept into last month in what the military said was a limited operation to root out Hamas' last intact combat units.

"The forces found combat means and eliminated armed saboteurs who operated nearby and posed a threat," it said.

Also read: Biden's Gaza plan 'not a good deal' but Israel accepts it, Netanyahu aide says

Remaining residents in Rafah - from where most of the million people who had taken refuge there have fled again - said Israeli tanks mounted raids into the centre and deeper into the west before retreating east and south again.

The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) issued a new plea for a ceasefire on Wednesday on X, describing the lasting impact of almost eight months of war.

"The war in #Gaza has upended millions of Palestinian lives & caused catastrophic damage to the natural environment that they depend upon for water, clean air, food & livelihoods. Restoring environmental services will take decades - & cannot even start until a #ceasefire," it said.

Israel vowed to destroy Hamas as it launched an air and ground offensive in Gaza last October after fighters stormed across the border into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 250 people hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 120 hostages remain in Gaza.

The Israeli military campaign has killed more than 36,000 people in densely populated Gaza, according to its health authorities, who say thousands more bodies are buried under rubble.


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