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GAZA STRIP: Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads to Israel Friday to press for a truce in Gaza, ahead of a key UN Security Council vote on a US draft resolution on the need for an “immediate” ceasefire.

Israel’s main backer the United States announced it would submit for a vote on Friday a draft to the Security Council on the need for an “immediate ceasefire as part of a hostage deal”, after repeatedly using its veto power to block other similarly worded resolutions.

After talks in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Blinken flies to Israel on Friday, his sixth trip to the region since the war began with Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7.

Fighting in Gaza this week has centred around Al-Shifa hospital, the besieged territory’s largest, with Israel also vowing to launch a new ground assault in overcrowded Rafah in the south.

Israel said its spy chief would also head back to Qatar on Friday for more truce talks with US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators who are trying to negotiate a six-week pause.

The talks are focused on securing a truce agreement, hinged on the release of hostages held by Hamas militants in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody and the delivery of more aid to Gaza, where famine is threatening its 2.4 million people.

Blinken told reporters in Cairo on Thursday “gaps are narrowing” and that the United States was “continuing to push for an agreement in Doha”.

“It’s difficult to get there, but I believe it is still possible,” Blinken said.

He warned that an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city where around 1.5 million people are hemmed in by the Egyptian border, would be “a mistake”.

Antony Blinken due in Mideast in new bid to secure truce

“There is no place for the civilians amassed in Rafah to get out of harm’s way,” Blinken said.

“There is a better way to deal with the ongoing threat posed by Hamas.”

‘Immediate, durable ceasefire’

The United States will submit its draft resolution to the UN Security Council on Friday, a spokesman for the US representative to the world body said.

The US resolution “will unequivocally support ongoing diplomatic efforts aimed at securing an immediate ceasefire in Gaza as part of a hostage deal… we will be bringing this Resolution for a vote on Friday morning,” Nate Evans, spokesman for US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said in a statement.

The United Kingdom and Australia, both allies of Israel and the United States, issued a statement after talks on Friday between their defence and foreign ministers that stressed the “urgency of an immediate cessation of fighting in Gaza to allow aid to flow and hostages to be released”.

After blocking an Algerian draft resolution calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza at the end of February, US officials have been negotiating an alternative text focusing on support for a six-week truce in exchange for the release of hostages.

However, Russia’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Dmitry Polyanskiy told reporters his country was “not satisfied with anything which doesn’t call for an immediate ceasefire”, raising the question of whether Security Council permanent member Moscow might veto the vote.

Israel’s relentless bombardment of Gaza has continued despite renewed diplomatic efforts, with the death toll in Gaza close to 32,000, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Israel’s military said it had killed more than 140 Hamas fighters and arrested more than 350 since the start of its operation in and around Al-Shifa hospital on Monday.

A 60-year-old patient who gave his name as Younis said he had been forced outside without clothes, blindfolded and interrogated before being freed.

The soldiers “beat all the young men and arrested them”, he told AFP.

The Israeli military said it was working “to identify unusual cases” involving its troops.

Children ‘starving to death’

The bloodiest-ever Gaza war was triggered by Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7 that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Hamas also seized about 250 hostages. Israel believes 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 who are presumed dead.

Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas and its response has killed at least 31,988 people, most of them women and children, have been killed, the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory says.

Gaza’s civilian infrastructure has also largely collapsed and UN agencies are warning the battered territory’s population is on the brink of famine.

A UN panel of independent experts said Thursday that children in Gaza were “starving to death”.

“They are cut off from food, even crumbs are not easy to find,” said the panel that oversees compliance with the UN child rights convention.

‘Strong message’

The head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, David Barnea, was to travel to Doha Friday to meet CIA chief William Burns, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and Egypt’s intelligence chief Abbas Kamel for further truce talks.

However, a Hamas official said Israel’s response to the group’s latest proposal had been “largely negative”.

Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have fled to escape fighting elsewhere, is the last urban centre to be so far spared an Israeli ground assault.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted a ground incursion is the only way to root out Hamas despite warnings by Blinken, the European Union, which called on Thursday for an “immediate humanitarian pause” in Gaza, and others.

Tensions have also flared in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli troops and settlers have killed more than 440 Palestinians since the Gaza war began, according to Palestinian officials.

Comments

200 characters
Taimoor Ashraf Mar 22, 2024 02:38pm
There must not be any more Palestinian children to kill.
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KU Mar 22, 2024 05:06pm
By now it has become a shameful joke and, US and EU confirmed complicit in genocide.
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