Israel to discuss ‘next steps’ in Gaza truce talks

Palestinian Territories – Israel sounded a positive note Saturday on efforts to broker a new hostage release and ceasefire deal in its war on Gaza, as concern deepened over the growing humanitarian crisis in the war-torn Gaza Strip.

As aid agencies warned of unprecedented levels of desperation and looming famine, dozens more Gazans were killed in Israeli strikes, the health ministry said.

An Israeli delegation led by Mossad intelligence agency chief David Barnea travelled to Paris for a fresh push towards a deal over a ceasefire.

National security advisor Tzachi Hanegbi said Israel’s war cabinet would meet later Saturday to hear an update after the delegation returned from the talks with mediators.

“There is probably room to move towards an agreement,” Hanegbi told N12 News television in an interview, without elaborating.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Saturday’s meeting would discuss the “next steps in the negotiations”.

As with a previous week-long truce in November that saw more than 100 hostages freed, Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been spearheading efforts to secure a deal.

White House envoy Brett McGurk held talks this week with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, after speaking to other mediators in Cairo who had met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.

As civilians in the besieged territory struggled to get food and supplies, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees warned Gazans were “in extreme peril while the world watches”.

In northern Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp, bedraggled children held plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food was available.

– ‘Unprecedented desperation’ –

Food is running out, with aid agencies unable to get into the area because of the bombing, while the trucks that do try to get through face frenzied looting.

Residents have taken to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves.

The World Food Programme said this week its teams reported “unprecedented levels of desperation” while the United Nations warned that 2.2 million people were on the brink of famine.

The health ministry said on Saturday that a two-month-old baby identified as Mahmud Fatuh had died of “malnutrition” in Gaza City.

Save the Children said the risk of famine would continue to “increase as long as the government of Israel continues to impede the entry of aid into Gaza”.

Israel has defended its track record on allowing aid into Gaza, saying that 13,000 trucks carrying relief supplies had entered the territory since the start of the war.

With tempers rising dozens of people in the Jabalia camp on Friday held an impromptu protest.

“We didn’t die from air strikes but we are dying from hunger,” read a sign held by one child.

‘Bring them back’

Following October 7 attack, Hamas took hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 29,606 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest tally from Gaza’s health ministry.

Pressure has mounted on Netanyahu’s government to negotiate a ceasefire and secure the release of the hostages.

A group representing their families held a rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening to demand swifter action.

“We keep telling you: bring them back to us! And no matter how,” said Avivit Yablonka, 45, whose sister Hanan was captured on October 7.

Hamas said Saturday that Israeli forces launched more than 70 strikes on civilian homes in Gazan cities including Deir al-Balah, Khan Yunis and Rafah over the previous 24 hours.

The health ministry said at least 92 people were killed.

More Rafah strikes

An AFP reporter in Rafah said there had been at least six air strikes on the city on Saturday evening.

At Najjar hospital in the city, AFP saw bodies carried from ambulances and placed in the courtyard of the hospital in body bags, while relatives grieved nearby.

Inside the hospital, medics treated several wounded men who were laid out on the floor, one with his head wrapped in bandages.

In Khan Yunis, which has seen heavy fighting in recent weeks, Israel’s military said it was “intensifying the operations” using tanks, close-range fire and aircraft.

“The soldiers raided the residence of a senior military intelligence operative” in the area, a military statement said.

With war still raging after more than four months, Netanyahu unveiled a plan for post-war Gaza this week which envisages civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.

It also says Israel will continue with the establishment of a security buffer zone inside Gaza along the territory’s border.

The plan has been rejected by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel’s key ally the United States said it did not support a “reoccupation” or a “reduction of the size of Gaza”, and said “Palestinian people should have a voice and a vote… through a revitalised Palestinian Authority”.

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© Agence France-Presse

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