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Palestinians search for bodies and survivors in the rubble after an Israeli airstrike, Rafah, 19 Dec. Alamy Stock Photo

More than 20,000 dead in Gaza since 7 October, Hamas says

Some 8,000 children are among the dead.

LAST UPDATE | 20 Dec 2023

THE DEATH TOLL in Gaza since the beginning of Israel’s war on Hamas on 7 October has surpassed 20,000, according to Hamas’ government.

Some 8,000 children and 6,200 women were among the dead, two months into the most recent conflict.

The shocking figures are released as hopes have risen for another truce and hostage release deal, following secret talks and as the head of the Palestinian militant group visited Egypt.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night told relatives of some of the remaining 129 captives held in Gaza since the 7 October attacks that his spy chief was working on efforts to “free our hostages”.

“I have just sent the head of Mossad to Europe twice to promote a process to free our hostages,” the premier told them. “I will spare no effort on the subject, and our duty is to bring them all back.”

Mossad director David Barnea held a “positive meeting” in Warsaw this week with CIA chief Bill Burns and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, a source familiar with the talks told AFP, asking not to be named.

Talks were ongoing “with the aim of reaching an agreement around the release of the remaining hostages in Gaza in exchange for a truce and the potential release of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons,” said the source.

The Qatar-based chief of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, on today travelled to Egypt, traditionally a key mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, for talks with intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.

A source close to Hamas, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the talks would focus on stopping the conflict and “to prepare an agreement for the release of prisoners (and) the end of the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip”.

Hamas is an Islamic militant group who are deemed a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the EU, among other powers. It has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 after winning the 2006 Palestinian elections and taking power by force.

President Isaac Herzog has said Israel was “ready for another humanitarian pause and additional humanitarian aid in order to enable the release of hostages”.

Another Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad, meanwhile, released video footage it claimed showed two hostages, ramping up pressure on Israel.

palestinians-inspect-a-house-after-it-was-hit-by-an-israeli-bombardment-on-rafah-southern-gaza-strip-wednesday-dec-20-2023-ap-photofatima-shbair Palestinians inspect a house after it was hit by an Israeli bombardment on Rafah, southern Gaza Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The bloodiest ever Gaza conflict began when Hamas attacked on 7 October, killing around 1,140 people in Israel, mostly civilians, and abducting about 250, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Israel launched a military campaign that Gaza’s health ministry says has killed 19,667 people, mostly women and children, while also cutting off most water, food and power supplies.

Qatar last month helped broker a first week-long truce in which 80 Israeli hostages were freed in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

The source close to Hamas said the Egypt talks would focus on proposals including a week-long truce that would see the release of 40 Israeli hostages, including women, children and male non-combatants.

Haniyeh, before leaving Qatar, met Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, but no details of their meeting were released.

UN vote expected

Fighting raged unabated today in Gaza, where the Israeli army reported close quarter combat and more than 300 strikes over the past day, while the death toll among its own forces rose to 134 inside Gaza.

It said “ground, aerial and naval operations were carried out on dozens of terrorists and terrorist infrastructure” including rocket launch sites and military command and control centres in Khan Yunis.

Hamas sources said at least 11 people were killed overnight in Israeli strikes.

In Khan Yunis, residents searched by hand through the rubble of a building completely flattened by bombardment.

Three corpses lay on the floor of the Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, where wounded people were treated, including children.

One man, Abed Abu Aisha, came in carrying his crying child, both covered in blood and dust.

“A missile hit our house, without any prior notice,” he said.

“We pulled out some from under the rubble, but more people are still buried. I don’t know the exact number of casualties, but a whole family was wounded.”

palestinians-gather-at-unrwa-logistics-base-in-rafah-the-gaza-strip-the-southern-israeli-occupied-territory-on-dec-17-2023-more-than-tens-of-thousands-of-displaced-palestinians-have-crammed-into Palestinians gather at UNRWA Logistics Base in Rafah, the Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The UN Security Council is set to vote later today on a resolution calling for a pause in the conflict,  diplomatic sources told AFP, after two previous votes were delayed as members wrangled over wording.

The latest version of the text calls for the “suspension” of hostilities, the sources said.

The US vetoed a previous ceasefire resolution, sparking condemnation by aid groups which urged more action to help civilians caught in the conflict.

‘On the brink’

The UN estimates 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million residents have been forced to flee their homes, many sheltering in tents amid dire shortages and the biting winter cold.

“Amid displacement at an unimaginable scale and active hostilities, the humanitarian response system is on the brink,” said Tor Wennesland, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

Israel, which declared a total siege on Gaza at the start of the conflict, has since allowed in aid trucks through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and, as of this week, its own Kerem Shalom crossing.

The UN’s World Food Progamme said today it had delivered food through the crossing in a first direct aid convoy from Jordan.

An Israeli military agency, COGAT, said it had also started laying a pipeline from Egypt to deliver drinking water from a mobile desalination plant in a project led by the United Arab Emirates.

But aid groups have warned  the humanitarian goods fall far short of the dire need, and the UN children’s agency said that “child deaths due to disease could surpass those killed in bombardments”.

The Gaza conflict has sparked fears of regional escalation and seen Israel trade deadly cross-border fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, where Israel said its aircraft hit more targets today.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels, meanwhile, have repeatedly fired missiles and drones at vessels passing through the Red Sea that they say are linked to Israel, in a show of support for Palestinians.

The United States this week started to build a multinational naval task force to protect the waterway leading to the Suez Canal, through which more than 10 percent of global trade transits.

© AFP 2023