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An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires a shell from southern Israel towards the Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo

Israel continues to pound Gaza as Egypt to host high-level Hamas delegation for ceasefire talks

The Israeli military said its forces “are extending operation in Khan Yunis” in the coastal territory’s south.

ISRAEL HAS POUNDED south and central Gaza today as Egypt is to host a high-level Hamas delegation for talks to try and end the nearly 12-week conflict that has devastated the besieged Palestinian territory.

The Israeli military said its forces “are extending operation in Khan Yunis” in the coastal territory’s south, and had “eliminated dozens of terrorists” across Gaza over the past 24 hours.

AFPTV footage showed smoke billowing over Rafah, near Egypt, following fresh strikes early today.

Israeli shelling near Al-Amal in Khan Yunis killed 41 people over the past two days, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said yesterday.

The casualties in repeated Israeli strikes near the facility include “displaced persons seeking shelter”, it said.

The UN humanitarian office said an estimated 100,000 more displaced people had arrived in the already-teeming southern border city of Rafah in recent days following the intensification of fighting around Deir al-Balah and Khan Yunis.

At Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah, Palestinians gathered to identify loved ones killed in strikes.

The fighting left much of Gaza’s north in ruins, while the battlefront has shifted ever further to the south and raised tensions across the Middle East.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas in retaliation for the 7 October attack which left about 1,140 people dead, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Around 250 hostages were also taken during the attack, more than half of whom remain captive.

palestinians-wounded-in-the-israeli-bombardment-of-the-gaza-strip-receive-treatment-at-the-hospital-in-khan-younis-gaza-strip-on-wednesday-dec-27-2023-ap-photomohammed-dahman Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip receive treatment at the hospital in Khan Younis Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Israel’s relentless aerial bombardment and ground invasion in Gaza have killed at least 21,507 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

The figure includes 187 fatalities over the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said.

The Israeli army says 168 of its soldiers have been killed inside Gaza.

Sources close to Hamas say Egypt’s three-stage plan provides for renewable ceasefires, a staggered release of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israel, and ultimately an end to the war.

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.

Little food, ‘really expensive’

Hamas’s military wing, Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said today it launched a fresh barrage of rockets at southern Israel.

Israel has repeatedly said that one of the chief goals of the conflict is the return of the 129 hostages it says remain in Gaza.

Yesterday, an Israeli kibbutz community said one of its residents, US-Israeli Judith Weinstein Haggai, 70, who was thought to be the oldest woman held captive had in fact died in the 7 October attack and her body held by militants.

US President Joe Biden said he was “devastated” by the news.

The UN says more than 80% of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been driven from their homes. Many now live in cramped shelters in the tiny territory or in makeshift tents around Rafah.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said 308 people seeking shelter in their facilities have been killed during the war.

Residents in Rafah combed through rubble for survivors yesterday after an air strike that one witness said left “several casualties”.

Tayseer Abu al-Eish said he was at home when “all of a sudden we heard a loud explosion and debris started falling on us. The apartment was completely destroyed and my daughters were screaming”.

rafah-gaza-28th-dec-2023-a-palestinian-family-sits-on-paving-as-palestinian-families-seeking-refuge-from-israeli-attacks-on-gaza-establish-makeshift-tents-in-vacant-areas-to-ensure-their-safety Palestinian families, seeking refuge from Israeli attacks on Gaza, establish makeshift tents Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

An Israeli siege imposed after 7 October, following years of crippling blockade, has deprived Gazans of food, water, fuel and medicine.

A UN aid convoy yesterday came under fire by the Israeli military without causing casualties, UNRWA said.

The severe shortages have been only sporadically eased by humanitarian aid convoys entering primarily via Egypt.

Rafah residents and displaced people thronged a Rafah market this morning to buy food, including fresh fruit, eggs and meat, trucked in the previous night from Egypt.

“This is the first time eggs and some types of fruit have entered Gaza from Egypt,” said vendor Muntasser al-Shaer.

“All types of fruit are missing in the markets, there are some types of vegetables but they’re really expensive,” he added.

Aiming for ‘complete withdrawal’

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths described on social media what he called “an impossible situation for the people of Gaza, and for those trying to help them”.

“You think getting aid into Gaza is easy? Think again,” he wrote Friday on X.

A Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the delegation in Cairo would “give the response of the Palestinian factions, including several observations” regarding the Egyptian proposal, recently put to officials from Hamas and another Gaza armed group, Islamic Jihad.

Hamas would also seek “guarantees for a complete Israeli military withdrawal” from Gaza, the official said.

The proposal provides for a Palestinian government of technocrats after talks involving “all Palestinian factions”, which would be responsible for governing and rebuilding in post-war Gaza.

Egypt’s State Information Services chief Dia Rashwan said the plan was “intended to bring together the views of all parties concerned, with the aim of ending the shedding of Palestinian blood”.

In Tel Aviv, hundreds rallied yesterday calling for a ceasefire.

The bloodiest ever Gaza conflict has also sharply heightened tensions between Israel and its long-time arch foe Iran, which supports armed groups across the Middle East.

Israel has traded heavy cross-border fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah since the Gaza conflict erupted, and today said its military had struck “Hezbollah infrastructure in southern Lebanon” after reporting rocket fire from there.

Later, the army said sirens warning of incoming fire blared in Israel’s north. 

© AFP 2023