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US urges 'immediate' ceasefire at UN as Gaza war grinds on

By AFP

March 21, 2024 05:20 PM


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The United States has circulated for the first time a draft UN resolution calling for an "immediate" ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, as warnings grow of famine in besieged Gaza.

Washington had blocked previous Security Council texts using the word "immediate" but US top diplomat Antony Blinken confirmed the shift in position on Wednesday.

Blinken, who is to meet five Arab foreign ministers in Egypt on Thursday, stressed any immediate truce must be linked to the release of hostages snatched by Palestinian militants during the October 7 attack that set off the war.

The Israeli bombardment of Gaza continued overnight with the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory saying at least 70 people had been killed, pushing the overall toll towards 32,000.

"We were sleeping safely when we heard a big blast," Gaza resident Mahmud Abu Arar told AFP following an Israeli bombardment in the southern city of Rafah on Wednesday.

He said the blast was "like an earthquake" and he had pulled bodies from the rubble.

Gaza's biggest hospital has emerged as a major flashpoint after Israel accused Palestinian militants of hiding out there and launched a days-long raid, which it said on Thursday had killed more than 140 fighters.

Hamas said the ongoing attack on the vast Al-Shifa hospital complex, crowded with patients and people seeking refuge, was a crime.

Gaza's civilian infrastructure has largely collapsed and UN agencies are warning that the territory's 2.4 million people are on the brink of famine.

'Strong message'

The United States has vetoed previous UN Security Council texts on the nearly six-month war, objecting even last month to the term "immediate" in a draft submitted by Algeria.

A new version circulated by the US and seen by AFP stressed "the need for an immediate and durable ceasefire" to protect civilians and allow aid into the territory.

No vote has been scheduled on the text but Blinken told Saudi media outlet Al Hadath on Wednesday that support for the resolution would send a "strong message".

The US secretary of state, whose diplomatic push is running alongside mediation efforts in Qatar, will land in Israel on Friday.

The Qatar talks were considering a Hamas proposal for a six-week ceasefire to allow hostages to be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and increased aid deliveries.

But a senior Hamas official based in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, said Israel's response had been "largely negative" and called it "a step backwards".

The US and Israel are also engaged in a diplomatic tug-of-war over the southern Gaza city of Rafah, the last part of the territory still largely untouched by Israeli ground troops.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have fled to the city to escape fighting elsewhere, but Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted a ground incursion is the only way to finally root out Hamas.

US officials said they supported Netanyahu's goal but wanted Israel to try strategies short of a potentially catastrophic invasion of an area where around 1.5 million people are hemmed in by the Egyptian border.

Hospital assault

The bloodiest-ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas's attacks resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

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

Israel's military has waged a retaliatory offensive against Hamas that has killed 31,988 people, most of them women and children, according to Gaza's health ministry.

Netanyahu has vowed to eliminate Hamas completely and Israel has long accused the militant group of using hospitals and other civilian infrastructure as cover.

At Al-Shifa hospital, the Israeli army said hundreds of suspects had been detained since the raid began on Monday including "dozens of senior terrorists and those with key positions".

Israel's army said on Thursday "over 140 terrorists have been eliminated" since the start of the raid on Monday.

Hamas accused Israeli troops of "crimes" at Al-Shifa, including "executions of dozens of displaced persons, patients and staff".

'Maritime corridor'

Tensions have also flared in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli troops and settlers have killed at least 437 Palestinians since the Gaza war began.

The Israeli military killed four Palestinians during a pre-dawn raid on a refugee camp near Tulkarem, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

As famine warnings multiplied, Cyprus prepared to hold an international conference on Thursday on its efforts to establish a "maritime corridor" to get desperately needed food into Gaza.

The Saudi government announced it would donate $40 million to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which has been central to aid operations in Gaza.

Many of Israel's allies suspended funding for the agency after Israel accused 12 of its 13,000 Gaza staff of taking part in the October 7 attack. Several have since resumed their contributions.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini warned this week that "siege, hunger and diseases will soon become the main killer in Gaza".

 

 

 

 


AFP


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