Bombings and fighting between the Israeli army and Hamas have left dozens dead in 24 hours in the Gaza Strip, where the Palestinian Islamist movement said on Tuesday it was examining a proposed truce agreement with Israel.
The Hamas Ministry of Health announced Tuesday the deaths of 128 people in the territory, including dozens in Khan Younes, the large city in southern Gaza that became the epicenter of the war sparked on October 7 by the bloody attack of Islamist movement against Israel.
The Israeli army admitted to flooding the tunnels dug by Hamas in the subsoil of Gaza in order to “neutralize” them, one of the tactical objectives of the war, ensuring that it would not compromise access to water. drinking water of the civilian population.
“Large volumes of water” are being sent into the tunnels, the military said.
Hamas, which took power in the territory in 2007, has dug this maze of galleries from which its fighters can emerge. Freed Israeli hostages also claimed to have been held there.
According to the army, fighting raged on Tuesday “in the west” of Khan Younes, a now largely destroyed city that Israel considers a Hamas stronghold, where “terrorists were eliminated and significant quantities of weapons found.
Faced with the risks of extension of the conflict, American President Joe Biden assured Tuesday that he was not “looking” for a “wider war in the Middle East”, after a drone strike, attributed to pro-Iran fighters, who killed three American soldiers on Sunday in Jordan, near the Syrian border.
Joe Biden affirmed that he held Iran “responsible” for having provided the weapons necessary for this strike, after which the United States is considering “multiple retaliations”, according to the White House.
An influential pro-Iran armed group in Iraq, the Hezbollah Brigades, immediately announced “suspend” its military operations against American troops based in the region.
The war in Gaza is also fueling violence in the West Bank, where an Israeli commando killed three Palestinians presented as “terrorists” on Tuesday in Jenin. According to Palestinian sources, they were “shot” in a hospital by soldiers disguised as caregivers.
Hamas prepares its response
After almost four months of war, the leader of Hamas, Ismaïl Haniyeh, based in Qatar, affirmed Tuesday that his movement had received a truce proposal with Israel, the result of a meeting in Paris between the director of the CIA, William Burns , and Egyptian, Israeli and Qatari officials.
“Hamas is examining the proposal” and preparing its response, according to a statement in Gaza from the movement, considered a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel.
Qatar, the main mediator in this conflict, announced Monday that a framework for a truce accompanied by new releases of hostages would be transmitted to Hamas.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, affirmed on Tuesday that Israel would not “withdraw the army from the Gaza Strip” and would not release “thousands of Palestinian terrorists” in exchange for hostages.
The war was sparked on October 7 by an unprecedented attack by Hamas on Israeli soil, which left around 1,140 dead, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli figures.
Some 250 people were kidnapped and taken to the Gaza Strip, around a hundred of whom were released at the end of November under a truce in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. According to Israeli authorities, 132 hostages remain held in Gaza, 28 of whom are presumed dead.
In response, Israel vowed to “annihilate” Hamas and launched a vast military operation which left 26,751 dead, the vast majority civilians, according to the Palestinian movement’s Ministry of Health.
Meeting at the UN
In the devastated territory besieged by Israel, in the grip of a major humanitarian crisis, the bombings have pushed 1.7 million Palestinians, according to the UN, out of a total of 2.4 million inhabitants, to flee their homes.
Most headed south as the fighting spread. More than 1.3 million displaced people, according to the UN, are now crowded into Rafah, a few kilometers south of Khan Younes, trapped against the closed border with Egypt.
Adding to the population’s distress, the civilian aid operations of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) are under threat after Israel accused 12 of its 30,000 regional employees of involvement in the attack of October 7.
The Israeli government on Tuesday accused UNRWA of letting Hamas “use its infrastructure” to carry out its military activities.
Thirteen countries have announced that they are suspending their aid to this agency, which has dismissed most of the employees concerned and promised an investigation.
No organization is “capable” of “replacing the enormous capacity, the fabric of UNRWA, and their knowledge of the population of Gaza”, declared Tuesday in New York the UN humanitarian coordinator for territory, Sigrid Kaag.
A meeting of major donors is scheduled for 5 p.m. (5 p.m. Eastern time) in New York at the initiative of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to try to maintain funding for the organization.
“Without this funding, the outlook for UNRWA and the millions of people it helps is very bleak,” said Mr. Guterres’ spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric.