Gaza war: Prospects dim for truce as Israel rejects calls to spare Rafah

Israel's top ally, the US, supports a temporary truce and hostage release deal rather than an immediate ceasefire.

Israel’s army pushed on Sunday, 18 February with its campaign in southern Gaza to destroy Hamas as prospects dimmed for a ceasefire in the more than four-month-old war.

A total of 127 people died in 24 hours, Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry said, as the main battlefront edged closer to far-southern Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinians live in crowded shelters and tent camps.

US favours temporary truce and hostage release deal

Israel’s top ally, the United States, signalled it would veto the latest push for a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire, as Washington instead favours a temporary truce and hostage release deal.

And mediator Qatar acknowledged that separate ceasefire talks had also hit an impasse after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected some Hamas demands as “ludicrous”.

Israel has concentrated its military operations in Khan Yunis, the hometown of Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, whom it accuses of masterminding the October 7 attack.

Ground invasion of Rafah to go ahead

Netanyahu vowed on Saturday the ground invasion of Rafah would go ahead, arguing that failing to launch it would mean to “lose the war”.

The military says it is working to move civilians from the area to minimise casualties, but has not revealed exact details of its evacuation plan.

Netanyahu’s government also rejected pressure from some Western governments that would aim for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

“After the terrible massacre of October 7, there can be no greater reward for terrorism than that and it will prevent any future peace settlement,” Netanyahu said.

The government later unanimously approved a declaration that said “Israel utterly rejects international diktats regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians. A settlement, if it is to be reached, will come about solely through direct negotiations between the parties, without preconditions.”

Latest strikes and fighting killed at least 10 people in Rafah and in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah overnight, said the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

At the morgue of a Rafah hospital, mourners bent down to give a final kiss to a loved one wrapped in a white body bag.

“That’s my cousin — he was martyred in Al-Mawasi, in the ‘safe area’,” said Ahmad Mohammed Aburizq. 

And my mother was martyred the day before. There’s no safe place. Even the hospital is not safe.

Gaza war: ‘Moment of truth’ for Israel

The Gaza war began with Hamas’s October 7 attack which resulted in the deaths of about 1 160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom are still in Gaza, including 30 who are presumed dead, according to Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza have killed at least 28 985 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry.

Brazilian president accuses Israel of ‘genocide’

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva accused Israel on Sunday of committing “genocide” in Gaza and compared its actions to Adolf Hitler’s campaign to exterminate Jews — comments that sparked a strong Israeli protest.

Netanyahu called the remarks “shameful and grave” and said the Brazilian ambassador would be summoned.

“It is Holocaust trivialisation and an attempt to harm the Jewish people and the right of Israel to defend itself,” the premier said.

On Sunday, the military said it had killed around 35 militants and struck a “weapons storage facility”, while an air strike in central Gaza killed “over 10” militants.

ALSO READ: ICJ rejects SA request for more Gaza measures

Turmoil in Tel Aviv: Call for immediate elections

In Tel Aviv, thousands took to the streets on Saturday against Netanyahu’s government, accusing it of abandoning the hostages and calling for immediate elections.

“Take politics out of decisions about our loved ones’ lives,” demanded Nissan Calderon, brother of hostage Ofer Calderon. “This is the moment of truth. There won’t be many more like it if the Cairo initiative collapses.”

Israel-Hamas ceasefire ‘unlikely’

Next week’s possible Security Council vote appears unlikely to advance the ceasefire effort, with Washington already voicing opposition.

“The United States does not support action on this draft resolution,” said US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

“Should it come up for a vote as drafted, it will not be adopted.”

Algeria’s draft resolution seeks an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, but Thomas-Greenfield said the United States instead supports a truce-for-hostages deal that would pause fighting for six weeks.

US President Joe Biden had “multiple calls” with Netanyahu, as well as Egyptian and Qatari leaders, this week “to push this deal forward”, she said.

Release of hostages

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani called those talks “not very promising”.

He said the efforts had been complicated by the insistence of “a lot of countries” that any new truce involve further releases of hostages.

‘Hunger ravaging people’

Hamas has threatened to suspend its involvement in the talks unless relief supplies reach Gaza’s north, where aid agencies have warned of looming famine.

“Negotiations cannot be held while hunger is ravaging the Palestinian people,” a senior source in the Palestinian militant group told AFP.

The head of the UN humanitarian agency OCHA in the Palestinian territories, Andrea De Domenico, said he had “no idea” how an estimated 300,000 people still in Gaza’s north had survived.

Israel’s military on Sunday said troops in Khan Yunis are still operating “in the Nasser Hospital” and adjacent to it where they “located additional weapons”.

Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said Israeli troops had turned Nasser Hospital “into a military barracks”.

He said one more person had died due to lack of oxygen because power has been out for three days, bringing the total of such deaths to seven.

Responding to reports that the hospital was no longer functional, Israeli army spokesman Richard Hecht said diesel and oxygen supplies had been delivered to the facility on Saturday and a temporary generator was operating.

ALSO READ: Alarm over fate of major Gaza hospital after Israeli raid

West Bank

In the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces killed two Palestinian men, aged 19 and 36, during a raid in a refugee camp on Sunday, the Palestinian health ministry said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Sunday described the situation in the West Bank as being at boiling point and warned “we could be on the eve of a greater explosion”.

By © Agence France-Presse

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