International pressure intensified Tuesday for a truce agreement between Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas including a new release of hostages, after the Israeli announcement of an upcoming offensive on Rafah, the last refuge for more than a million Palestinians from the Gaza Strip.
The director of the CIA, the American central intelligence agency, William Burns, is expected in Cairo on Tuesday for new talks mediated by Qatar relating in particular to the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip, according to sources close to the case.
The heads of Israeli intelligence, David Barnea and Ronen Bar, are also expected to travel there to meet Mr. Burns and Qatari and Egyptian officials, according to Israeli officials.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently ordered his army to prepare an offensive on Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinians are massed, according to the UN, more than half of the territory’s total population, most of them having fled the war that has been raging for four months.
He repeated on Monday his determination to continue “military pressure until complete victory” on Hamas, of which Rafah is the “last bastion”, to free “all our hostages”.
A few hours earlier, Israel had released two hostages, Israeli-Argentinians, in Rafah, on the border with Egypt, during a night operation accompanied by bombings which left around a hundred dead, according to the authorities of the Palestinian Islamist movement. , in power in Gaza since 2007.
The Israeli army announced on Tuesday the death of three soldiers in fighting in the Gaza Strip, bringing to 232 the number of Israeli soldiers killed since the start of the ground operation on October 27.
In recent days, it has concentrated its operations on the town of Khan Younes, a few km north of Rafah, where it said it had killed “30 terrorists”.
“Unbearable” humanitarian situation
The United States, Israel’s main ally, opposes a large-scale operation without a solution for civilians stuck on the closed border with Egypt in the territory’s far south.
US President Joe Biden called for a “credible” plan from Israeli forces to spare civilians in Rafah who are “exposed and vulnerable”, during a meeting Monday at the White House with the king. of Jordan Abdullah II.
He further thanked Jordan for providing humanitarian aid to Gaza, including “a few days” ago: Abdullah II “personally boarded a plane and participated in the airdrop of urgent medical supplies to Gaza “.
“We cannot afford an Israeli attack on Rafah”, where the humanitarian situation is already “unbearable”, said Abdallah II, who also called for “an immediate lasting ceasefire” in Gaza.
“The United States is working on an agreement to release the hostages (…), which would immediately bring a period of calm of at least six weeks to Gaza,” for his part indicated the American president.
China, for its part, on Tuesday called on Israel to stop its military operation in Rafah “as quickly as possible,” in order to “prevent an even more serious humanitarian catastrophe.”
The war was sparked on October 7 by an unprecedented attack by Hamas commandos infiltrated from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,160 people, the majority civilians killed that day. , according to an AFP count based on official Israeli data.
In retaliation, the Israeli government vowed to “destroy” the Islamist movement, which it considers a “terrorist” organization, along with the United States and the European Union.
The Israeli offensive left 28,473 people dead in the Gaza Strip, the vast majority of them civilians, according to the Hamas government’s Health Ministry.
According to Israel, 130 hostages are still in Gaza, 29 of whom are believed to have died, out of around 250 people kidnapped on October 7. A week-long truce in November allowed the release of 105 hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinians detained by Israel.
” On the moon ? »
Faced with international fears of a major military offensive, Mr. Netanyahu affirmed on Sunday that Israel would open “a secure passage” to the population to leave Rafah, without specifying to which destination.
“They are going to evacuate” the Palestinians: “Where? On the moon ? », asked the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell in Brussels.
Palestinian families, many already displaced several times and fearing having to move again, began on Tuesday to dismantle their tents and gather their belongings.
“We fled the north with nothing, then we went to Khan Younès with still nothing,” said Ismaïl Joundiyah, a displaced person. “This time, we want to be ready.”
The UN will not be associated with “a forced population displacement” in Rafah, warned Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary General.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one of Israel’s most critical leaders since the start of his operation in Gaza, was also expected in Dubai on Tuesday and in Cairo on Wednesday.
Hamas warned on Sunday that an offensive on Rafah would “torpedo” any hostage deal.
Around 1.7 million people, according to the UN, out of a total of 2.4 million inhabitants, have fled their homes since October 7 in the Palestinian territory besieged by Israel and plunged into a major humanitarian crisis.
Rafah, which has become a gigantic encampment, is the main entry point for humanitarian aid, insufficient to meet the needs of the population who live in “conditions close to famine”, according to the World Food Program (WFP).