(Jerusalem) The head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken meets Israeli leaders on Wednesday to promote a new truce agreement in the Gaza Strip, including the release of hostages, at a time when the war between Israel and Hamas enters into his fifth month.
Israeli bombings, according to an AFP journalist, once again targeted Khan Younes, in the south of the Palestinian territory, and the neighboring town of Rafah, refuge for hundreds of thousands of terrorized displaced people, who now fear a ground assault.
According to the Hamas Ministry of Health, one hundred people have been killed since Tuesday evening across the Gaza Strip.
“We didn’t sleep all night. The noise of the planes did not stop. The bombings became so close and so violent. I am terrified at the idea that Israel will launch a ground operation on Rafah,” Dana Ahmed, a 40-year-old woman who fled the northern Gaza city with her family and lives in a tent, told AFP. in Rafah.
” Horror movie ”
“It was they (the Israeli army, editor’s note) who asked people to go to Rafah. Where will we go? The situation is catastrophic. I feel like I’m watching a horror movie.”
After Egypt and Qatar on Tuesday, two mediator countries, the American Secretary of State arrived in Israel for this fifth tour in the region since the start of the war on October 7 and is due to meet in particular Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hamas announced that it had submitted its response, without detailing it, to Egyptian and Qatari mediators to a truce proposal formulated at the end of January in Paris by American, Qatari and Egyptian officials.
According to an American official, Antony Blinken was informed of this response on Tuesday by the Emir of Qatar.
A source in the Palestinian movement indicated last week that the three-phase project included a six-week truce during which Israel will have to release 200 to 300 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages held by Hamas, as well as the increased entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza.
Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdelrahmane Al-Thani said he was “optimistic”, describing Hamas’ response as “overall positive”.
This response was also forwarded to Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence services. “The details are being examined carefully by officials involved in the negotiations,” Mr. Netanyahu’s office said.
The war was sparked on October 7 by an unprecedented attack carried out on Israeli soil by Hamas commandos infiltrated from Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count. made from official Israeli data.
In response, Israel vowed to “destroy” Hamas, in power in Gaza since 2007, and launched an offensive which left 27,585 dead in the Palestinian territory, the vast majority civilians, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health. .
Fears for Rafah
Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed by Israeli bombings and 1.7 million people, according to the UN, have been displaced among the approximately 2.4 million inhabitants of the small territory, besieged by Israel and plunged into a major humanitarian crisis. .
After fleeing the fighting further north, more than 1.3 million displaced people, according to the UN, are now crowded into desperate conditions in Rafah, five times the initial population of this town backed by the closed border with Egypt.
Rafah could be Israel’s next objective. On Monday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who is also due to meet with Mr. Blinken on Wednesday, warned that the army would “reach places where it has not yet fought (…) until the last bastion of Hamas , namely Rafah”.
“An escalation of hostilities in Rafah could lead to large-scale loss of civilian life. We must do everything in our power to avoid it,” warned Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA) in Geneva.
” A lot of work ”
At the end of November, a first one-week truce allowed the increased entry of humanitarian aid and the release of around a hundred hostages, out of the approximately 250 taken to Gaza on October 7, and Palestinian prisoners.
According to Israel, 132 hostages are still being held in Gaza, of whom 29 are believed to have died.
“There is still a lot of work to do. But we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and even essential, and we will continue to work tirelessly to achieve it,” Mr. Blinken said on Tuesday.
According to him, the draft agreement drawn up at the end of January “offers the prospect of prolonged calm, a release of hostages and an increase in aid” in Gaza. “It would clearly be beneficial for everyone,” he said.
Until then, Hamas demands a total ceasefire. Israel, which considers the Palestinian Islamist movement a terrorist organization as do the United States and the European Union, refuses to do so, maintaining that its offensive in Gaza will only end once Hamas is eliminated and the hostages released. .
“We are on the path to total victory and we will not stop,” Mr. Netanyahu repeated on Tuesday.
Outside Gaza, tensions remain high in the region between Israel and its allies on the one hand and Iran and allied groups on the other including Lebanese Hezbollah, militias in Iraq and Syria and the Houthi rebels in Yemen .
During the night, Israeli strikes on the Homs region in Syria left eight people dead, including six civilians, according to an NGO.