Fighting between the Israeli army and Hamas continued to rage on Friday in the Gaza Strip, after the “initial” approval given, according to Qatar, by the Palestinian movement to a truce agreement providing for an exchange of hostages and prisoners.
Witnesses reported Israeli raids in central and southern Gaza, particularly in the area of Khan Younes, the second city in the territory where Israeli operations are now concentrated.
The Hamas Health Ministry counted 105 deaths across Gaza since the day before.
After almost four months of war, the Palestinian territory, besieged by Israel and largely destroyed, has become “uninhabitable”, according to the UN.
More than 1.3 million of its inhabitants, according to the UN, out of a total of 2.4 million, are refugees in the southern city of Rafah, against the closed border with Egypt, threatened by famine and epidemics, piled up in the middle of winter under makeshift shelters.
Faced with this major humanitarian crisis and heavy civilian losses, diplomacy is trying to impose a second truce, longer than that of one week which allowed in November the release of around a hundred Israeli hostages in Gaza and Palestinians held by Israel.
The leader of Hamas, Ismaïl Haniyeh, based in Qatar, is expected in Egypt to discuss a proposal drawn up during a recent meeting in Paris between the head of the CIA, William Burns, and Egyptian, Israeli and Qatari officials.
– A “rushed” announcement –
According to a Hamas source, the proposal covers three phases, the first of which provides for a six-week truce during which Israel will have to release 200 to 300 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages held in Gaza, and 200 to 300 trucks of Aid will be able to enter the territory every day.
This proposal was “approved by the Israeli side,” Qatari diplomatic spokesperson Majed al-Ansari said on Thursday.
“We now have a first positive confirmation from Hamas,” he said, adding that he hoped that “in the next two weeks we will be able to share good news on this subject.”
A source close to Hamas in Gaza, however, told AFP that there was still no consensus and that Qatar's statement was “hasty and false”.
Some 250 people were kidnapped and taken to Gaza on October 7 when Hamas commandos carried out an unprecedented attack on Israeli soil, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to a tally by the 'AFP produced from official Israeli data.
According to Israeli authorities, 132 hostages remain held in Gaza. Among them, 27 were declared dead by the army.
In response to this attack, Israel vowed to “annihilate” Hamas, in power in Gaza since 2007, and launched a military offensive which left 27,019 dead, the vast majority civilians, according to the Palestinian movement's Ministry of Health. .
– “The only doctor” –
In Khan Younes, fighting is raging, particularly around the two large hospitals, Nasser and al-Amal, overwhelmed by the influx of wounded. Tens of thousands of residents have fled their devastated city.
Further north, in Gaza City, other residents found refuge near Chifa hospital.
The army “dropped leaflets asking us to leave, where should we go? Our houses were destroyed, our children were killed,” a woman, Abir Al Madhoun, told AFP.
A doctor, Mohamad Ghrab, says he is “the only doctor available, in addition to a few nurses” in this hospital, the largest in the territory, where “the central oxygen station was shut down” by Israeli soldiers when they stormed at the end of November.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who visited Khan Younes on Thursday, said that a “hard blow” had been dealt to Hamas, which has “10,000 terrorists dead and 10,000 others injured.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under strong pressure both from hostage families to reach an agreement and from ministers who are threatening to leave the government, in the event of an agreement that they say is too generous towards the Palestinians. .
Israel, which considers Hamas a terrorist organization, as do the United States and the European Union, continues to assert that it will only end its offensive in Gaza once the movement is eliminated and the hostages released. and after having received guarantees on the future security of its territory.
On Thursday evening, demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv to demand an agreement allowing the release of the hostages.
“The only way is to make a deal,” said Moran Zer Katzenstein, 41: “After that, we will have time to deal with Hamas and remove it from the management and leadership of Gaza (… ) but first we have to take care of the hostages.”
The war in Gaza has heightened tensions in the occupied West Bank and across the Middle East, between Israel and its allies on one side, and Iran and what it calls the “axis of resistance” on the other. ” including, in addition to Hamas, the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, Iraqi militias and the Yemeni Houthi rebels.
A pro-Iran armed group in Iraq, Al-Noujaba, announced Friday that it intended to continue attacks against American troops in the Middle East.