Israel and Hamas at war, day 167 | Blinken considers truce “possible”, calls on Israel to abandon an operation on Rafah

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken ruled Thursday in Cairo that an Israeli ground operation on the overcrowded town of Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip would be “a mistake” as a truce agreement between Israel and Hamas ‘possible’ in besieged Palestinian territory.




After five and a half months of war, “the gap is narrowing,” said Mr. Blinken, in the negotiations for a truce associated with a release of hostages which are being held in Qatar, where the head of Israeli intelligence will meet Friday with the director of the CIA.

“If it is difficult to reach” an agreement, “it is always possible,” he added.

The head of American diplomacy, who is expected in Israel on Friday, also announced that the United States had presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council calling for an “immediate ceasefire linked to the release of hostages” held in Gaza since the start of the war on October 7.

PHOTO KHALED DESOUKI, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Secretary of State Antony Blinken

The text, consulted by AFP, underlines in particular “the need for an immediate and lasting ceasefire to protect civilians on all sides and allow the provision of essential humanitarian aid”.

This text will be submitted to the Security Council for a vote on Friday.

The United States, Israel’s historic ally, has already vetoed several Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire, believing that this would have benefited Hamas.

But faced with the heavy human toll and the looming famine, Washington is now redoubling its efforts to reach a truce and avoid a ground offensive on Rafah, fearing heavy civilian losses.

The 27 countries of the European Union also urged Israel on Thursday not to launch an operation on Rafah and called for an “immediate humanitarian pause”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says an offensive on Rafah, backed by the closed border with Egypt, is necessary to definitively defeat Hamas, despite international pressure and the presence in this city of nearly a million and a half people, according to the UN, the majority displaced by the war.

A major Israeli operation in Rafah would be “a mistake,” said Antony Blinken, believing that “there are better ways to manage the threat from Hamas.”

Landscape of ruins

The war broke out on October 7 when Hamas commandos infiltrated from Gaza carried out an unprecedented attack in southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of at least 1,160 people, most of them civilians, according to a count of AFP established from official Israeli data.

According to Israel, around 250 people have been kidnapped and 130 of them are still hostages in Gaza, of whom 33 are believed to have died.

In retaliation, Israel vowed to destroy Hamas, in power in Gaza since 2007, which it considers a terrorist organization along with the United States and the European Union.

His army launched an offensive which has so far left 31,988 dead in Gaza, according to the Islamist movement’s Ministry of Health, which on Thursday counted at least 65 dead in 24 hours in Israeli strikes.

Witnesses reported fighting around al-Chifa hospital in Gaza City, in the north.

More than 140 Palestinian fighters, according to the Israeli army, have been killed since the start of the large-scale operation launched Monday against this hospital complex, which pushed hundreds of civilians to flee.

AFP images showed thick clouds of smoke above Khan Younes, in the south of the Gaza Strip. In the neighboring town of Rafah, residents inspected the rubble of houses, in a landscape of ruins.

CIA-Mossad meeting

On his sixth tour of the Middle East since the start of the war, Blinken met President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in Cairo on Thursday to discuss ways to achieve a ceasefire, before a meeting with the heads of diplomacy of five Arab countries-Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates.

These ministers jointly called for “a complete and immediate ceasefire” and “the opening of all crossing points between Israel and the Gaza Strip” in order to allow humanitarian aid to pass through.

At the same time, discussions on a truce continue in Doha between representatives of the United States, Qatar and Egypt.

The head of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, David Barnea, is due to meet CIA Director Wiliam Burns in Doha on Friday, as well as Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdelrahman Al-Thani and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.

“Children are starving”

In order to provide some relief to the population, several countries are organizing daily airdrops of food and have opened a maritime corridor from Cyprus to Gaza, but all emphasize that these supply routes cannot replace land routes.

“Children are starving. They are deprived of food,” the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed alarm on Thursday, renewing its call for a ceasefire.

“Even crumbs are hard to find,” he says.

Israel has imposed a complete siege on the Gaza Strip since the start of the war and strictly controls humanitarian aid which arrives mainly from Egypt via Rafah.

This aid remains very insufficient given the immense needs of the 2.4 million inhabitants of Gaza and reaches only with great difficulty in the north, where more than 300,000 people live according to the UN.

UN agencies have warned that famine will rage in this part of the territory by May unless “urgent” measures are taken.

“The siege, hunger and disease will soon become the main causes of death in Gaza,” warned the commissioner general of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini.


reference: www.lapresse.ca

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