Gaza bombed as mediators plan

Urban combat and shelling rocked Gaza’s southern city of Rafah. Picture: AFP

Urban combat and shelling rocked Gaza’s southern city of Rafah. Picture: AFP

Published Jun 6, 2024


Israel’s military pounded central Gaza with heavy air strikes on Wednesday as US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators planned to resume talks on a truce and hostage release deal.

Tensions were high in annexed east Jerusalem where thousands of police were deployed to guard Israel’s annual “flag march” that has sparked clashes between Jews and Arabs in previous years.

The bloodiest Gaza war, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, raged on unabated with jets bombing targets overnight and Palestinian officials reporting yet more deaths.

Urban combat and shelling rocked Gaza’s southern city of Rafah near the Egyptian border, the last area hit by the Israeli ground invasion launched in northern Gaza in late October.

But fighting has also flared again in central areas, where the army said “troops have started targeted operational activity in the areas of Bureij and eastern Deir al-Balah, both above and below ground”.

“The activity started with a series of air strikes on terror targets, including military compounds, weapons storage facilities and underground infrastructure,” it said.

“During the strikes, several Hamas terrorists were eliminated.”

Bombardment of central Gaza killed 11 people near the al-Maghazi camp and two near Deir al-Balah, said witnesses and Palestinian civil defence and hospital officials.

Families rushed the wounded, including children, to hospitals in the area, where AFP reporters said civilians were once more packing their belongings on pickup trucks and onto wheelchairs to flee.

Almost eight months into the war, global outrage has spiralled over the soaring death toll and the destruction in Gaza, where UN data suggests more than half of all buildings are destroyed or damaged.

US President Joe Biden last Friday outlined what he called a three-phase Israeli plan that would halt the fighting for six weeks while hostages are exchanged for Palestinian prisoners and aid is stepped up.

G7 powers and Arab states have backed the proposal, although sticking points remain – Hamas insists on a permanent truce and full Israeli withdrawal, demands Israel has rejected.

Biden has urged Hamas to accept the deal and deployed CIA chief Bill Burns to Qatar for a renewed push after months of back-and-forth negotiations.

A source with knowledge of the talks said Burns would “continue working with mediators on reaching an agreement between Hamas and Israel on a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of hostages”.

Brett McGurk, Biden’s top Middle East adviser, was also headed to Qatar, according to news site Axios which quoted an administration source as talking of a “full-court press ... to get a breakthrough”.

Egypt’s state-linked al-Qahera News said an “Egyptian security delegation would meet with its Qatari and US counterparts in Doha on Wednesday to discuss the mechanism of restoring the truce talks”.

Qatar said on Tuesday it had yet to see statements from either side “that give us a lot of confidence”, but that Doha was “working with both sides on proposals on the table”.

Biden earlier told Qatar’s emir that “Hamas is now the only obstacle to a complete ceasefire”, and “confirmed Israel’s readiness to move forward” with the terms he set out last week.

A senior Hamas official in Beirut on Tuesday accused Israel of seeking “endless” negotiations and repeated the group’s position rejecting any deal that excludes a permanent ceasefire.

Israeli police deployed 3000 officers in Jerusalem ahead of the annual march by right-wingers commemorating Israel’s capture of the Old City in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The march draws Israeli religious ultra-nationalists and Zionist youth groups and leads through the city’s Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall.

It has been a lightning rod for Israeli-Palestinian tensions in recent years.

On the day the march was held in 2021, Hamas launched a barrage of rockets towards Jerusalem, setting off a 12-day conflict between Israel and the Islamist militant group.

Israel has faced growing diplomatic isolation, cases against it before two international courts, and several European governments, most recently Slovenia’s, recognising a Palestinian state.

Amid the Gaza war, tensions have also spiralled elsewhere in the region between Israel and its allies on the one hand, and Iran-backed armed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen on the other.

The Israeli army and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement have traded near daily cross-border fire, causing deaths, forcing mass evacuations and igniting wildfires on both sides.

Cape Times