More than 120 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours, Hamas said on Sunday, ahead of a new mission by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the Middle East focused on negotiations with a view to a truce.
As the war enters its fifth month on February 7, the Israeli army continued its bombings on Khan Younes, the large southern city where, according to Israel, leaders of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas are hiding.
According to an AFP journalist, airstrikes also targeted Rafah, a few kilometers further south, where according to the UN there are more than 1.3 million people who have fled the fighting and bombings which devastated the strip. of besieged Gaza.
A strike hit a kindergarten where displaced people were sheltering in the overcrowded town of Rafah, located on the closed border with Egypt, the Hamas government press office said.
Fears are growing in the face of a possible military offensive against this city which had 200,000 inhabitants before the war and where displaced people living in shelters and makeshift camps are threatened by shortages and epidemics.
Across the small territory of some 2.4 million people, at least 127 people have been killed in the past 24 hours, Hamas’ health ministry said.
The latter reports almost daily the death of around a hundred Palestinians in Israeli bombings and in fighting between the Israeli army and Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.
The war was sparked on October 7 by an unprecedented attack by Hamas on Israeli soil, which resulted in the death of more than 1,160 people, the majority civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli data.
In response, Israel vowed to “annihilate” Hamas and launched a military offensive which killed 27,365 people, the vast majority civilians, according to a latest report on Sunday from the Islamist movement’s Ministry of Health.
The Israeli army, which launched a ground campaign on October 27 in the north of the Gaza Strip, announced a new toll of 225 soldiers killed in the territory after the death of a soldier.
The soldiers advanced towards the south of the Gaza Strip reaching Khan Younes. And Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said this week that Rafah is the next target. “We will reach Rafah and eliminate the terrorist elements that threaten us. »
On the diplomatic front, negotiations are underway to reach a second truce, longer than the one week which allowed at the end of November the release of around a hundred hostages held in Gaza in exchange for Palestinians detained by Israel.
Some 250 people were kidnapped and taken to Gaza on October 7, according to Israel, and 132 hostages remain held. Among them, 27 were declared dead by the army.
In Beirut, a Hamas official, Osama Hamdane, considered it premature to talk about an agreement on a truce, after the Palestinian movement was given a draft agreement drawn up by Qatari, American and Egyptian mediators in Paris at the end of January . The project “is a framework agreement that needs to be studied,” he said.
According to a Hamas source, the proposal initially provides for a six-week truce with the release of 200 to 300 Palestinians detained in Israel in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages.
Antony Blinken, whose country is Israel’s main supporter, is expected to leave Washington on Sunday for the Middle East to support these negotiations. He is scheduled to travel to Qatar, Egypt, Israel, the occupied West Bank and Saudi Arabia.
His French counterpart Stéphane Séjourné met on Sunday in Cairo with President Abel Fattah al-Sissi, as part of a regional tour focused on the same negotiations.
Hamas, which took power in Gaza in 2007, demands a definitive ceasefire. This is what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses despite growing pressure from relatives of hostages who demonstrated again on Saturday evening in Tel Aviv to demand the return of the hostages and the resignation of the government.