Sunday, March 3, 2024

Israel says 24 soldiers killed in deadliest day of ground war

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The Israeli army said Tuesday that 24 soldiers had been killed in Gaza the day before, the biggest single-day toll since the start of its ground operation on October 27.

Most of the soldiers were killed when rocket-propelled grenade fire hit a tank and a building they were trying to blow up, military spokesman Daniel Hagari said in a televised statement.

Hagari said several of the troops killed were reservists.

“We worked to find the victims until the last hours,” Hagari said, indicating the difficulty in extracting bodies buried under the rubble. “Our reservists sacrificed what was dearest to them so that we could all live here in complete safety,” he said.

Israel invaded Gaza after Palestinian resistance group Hamas attacked southern Israel on October 7 as retaliation for decades of oppression and killed around 1,100 Israeli settlers, as per Tel Aviv’s twice revised estimates.  

Israel’s blistering retaliatory offensive against Hamas in Gaza has killed 25,295 people, most of them women, children and adolescents, according to the health ministry.

Combat raged in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, against a backdrop of negotiations aimed at bringing about a pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas in the absence of a long-term peace plan.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said early Tuesday that Israeli forces had targeted its headquarters in Khan Yunis “with artillery shelling on the fourth floor, coinciding with intense gunfire from Israeli drones, resulting in injuries among internally displaced individuals who sought safety on our premises”.

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA reported that “ground operations, fighting and attacks intensified” over the preceding day around the main southern city, with the Israeli army saying its forces had conducted multiple raids and taken control of Hamas command centres there.

The fierce fighting came as a White House official was due in the region for talks aimed at securing more captive releases, and as US media reported a new Israeli proposal for a deal that would involve a two-month pause in fighting.

UN agencies and aid groups have sounded the alarm about the growing threat of disease and famine in Gaza, where 1.7 million people are estimated to have been displaced from their homes.

Abu Iyad, his belongings piled on a donkey-drawn cart, told AFP on Monday that he was moving for the seventh time, fleeing Khan Yunis for Rafah on the Egyptian border, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians have settled, many in makeshift tents.

“I’m heading to the unknown,” he said. “They told us to go to Rafah — where to go in Rafah? Is there any space left?”

Relatives of the captives stormed a parliamentary committee meeting on Monday demanding urgent action.

“You sit here while our children are dying over there,” yelled Gilad Korngold, father of hostage Tal Shoham, an AFP correspondent reported.

US news outlet Axios reported on Monday night that Israel had proposed to Hamas, via Qatari and Egyptian mediators, a new deal to free all the captives.

The report, citing unnamed Israeli officials, said the proposed deal would be carried out in multiple stages, and would also involve the release of an undetermined number of Palestinian prisoners.

The plan was expected to take about two months to complete.

The proposal does not include promises to end the war, but it would involve Israeli troops reducing their presence in major cities in Gaza and gradually allowing residents to return to the territory’s devastated north, the Axios report said.

News of the proposal comes as US media said the White House’s coordinator for the Middle East, Brett McGurk, was expected in Egypt and Qatar for meetings aimed at securing a new hostage exchange deal.

State Department spokesman Vedant Patel, however, said that Washington still believed “a two-state solution, a creation of a Palestinian state, is the only path that gets us out of this endless cycle of violence”.

Netanyahu has steadfastly rejected calls for the creation of a Palestinian state, saying Israel must maintain “security control over all the territory west of the Jordan” River, an area that includes all of the Palestinian territories.

EU foreign ministers on Monday pressed Israel to change its mind at meetings in Brussels with the top diplomats from the two warring parties and key Arab states.

“The two-state solution is the only solution, and even those who don’t want to know about it have not yet come up with any other alternative,” said German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that more death and destruction in Gaza “will not help to defeat Hamas or the ideology”, nor would it make Israel safer.

A handout picture released by the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) on January 22, 2024 shows a Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4 taking off to carry out Air Strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen. PHOTO: AFP

At the gathering, Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz ignored questions from journalists over a future two-state solution and said his country was focused on returning the hostages and ensuring its security.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, who was also in attendance, said Israel’s rejection of “the two-state solution is dooming the future of the region to more conflicts”.

The war in Gaza has spurred fears of a wider escalation, with a surge in violence involving Iran-backed Hamas allies across the region.

Yemen’s Houthi fighters announced on Tuesday that they had fired missiles at a US military ship in the Gulf of Aden near the Red Sea, but a US defence official said no attack had taken place.

The United States and Britain later announced a fresh round of strikes on Houthi targets in response to the rebels’ continued attacks on Red Sea shipping.

The US Central Command said in a statement that the targets of the strikes “included missile systems and launchers, air defense systems, radars, and deeply buried weapons storage facilities”.


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