PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES, Feb 24 — Overnight strikes on Gaza killed dozens, the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry said today, as Israel’s spy chief joined talks in Paris seeking to unblock negotiations on a truce.

The negotiations come after a plan for a post-war Gaza unveiled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew criticism from key ally the United States, and was rejected by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank.

They also come alongside deepening fears for Gaza’s civilians. The United Nations’ main aid body for Palestinians, UNWRA, said Gazans were “in extreme peril while the world watches”.

Hamas said this morning that Israeli forces had launched more than 70 strikes on civilian homes in Deir al-Balah, Khan Yunis and Rafah among other locations over the previous 24 hours. The health ministry said at least 92 people were killed.

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The Palestinian Islamist movement that has ruled Gaza since 2007 also said fighting was raging in the northern district of Zeitun.

AFPTV footage showed distraught Gazans queueing yesterday for food in Jabalia, also in the besieged Palestinian territory’s devastated north, and protesting over dire living conditions.

“We have no water, no flour and we are very tired because of hunger. Our backs and eyes hurt because of fire and smoke,” said one of them, Oum Wajdi Salha.

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Gaza’s health ministry said a two-month-old baby identified as Mahmud Fatuh had died of “malnutrition”.

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA warned that “the elevated risk of famine in Gaza is projected to increase” without enough food and water, as well as health services.

People check the destruction caused by overnight Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 23, 2024, as battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas continue. — AFP pic
People check the destruction caused by overnight Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 23, 2024, as battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas continue. — AFP pic

Post-war plan

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

Hamas militants also 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 count by Gaza’s health ministry.

An Israeli air strike yesterday destroyed the Gaza home of well-known Palestinian comedian Mahmoud Zuaiter, killing at least 23 people and wounding dozens more, the health ministry said.

Netanyahu this week unveiled a plan for post-war Gaza that envisages civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.

The plan says that, even after the conflict, Israel’s army would have “indefinite freedom” to operate throughout Gaza to prevent any resurgence of terror activity, according to the proposals.

It also says Israel will move ahead with a plan, already underway, to establish a security buffer zone inside Gaza along the territory’s border.

A senior Hamas official dismissed the plan as unworkable.

“When it comes to the day after in the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu is presenting ideas which he knows fully well will never succeed,” Osama Hamdan told reporters in Beirut.

The plan also drew criticism from the United States. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Washington had been “consistently clear with our Israeli counterparts” about what was needed in post-war Gaza.

“The Palestinian people should have a voice and a vote... through a revitalised Palestinian Authority,” he said, adding the United States also did not “believe in a reduction of the size of Gaza”.

Women stand amid the destruction following overnight Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 23, 2024, as battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas continue. — AFP pic
Women stand amid the destruction following overnight Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 23, 2024, as battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas continue. — AFP pic

Paris delegation

An Israeli delegation led by Mossad intelligence agency chief David Barnea was in Paris today for a fresh push towards a deal to return the remaining hostages.

Barnea would be joined by his counterpart at the domestic Shin Bet security agency, Ronen Bar, Israeli media reported.

The United States, Egypt and Qatar have all been deeply involved in past negotiations aimed at securing a truce and prisoner-hostage exchanges.

Pressure has been mounting on Netanyahu’s government to negotiate a ceasefire and secure the hostages’ release after more than four months of war. A group representing the captives’ families planned what it billed as a “huge rally” to demand swifter action, coinciding with the Paris talks tonight.

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.

A Hamas source said the new plan proposes a six-week pause in the conflict and the release of between 200 and 300 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages being held by Hamas.

Barnea and his US counterpart from the CIA helped broker a week-long truce in November that saw the release of 80 Israeli hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

US National Security Council spokesman Kirby had said earlier that the discussions were “going well”, while Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz spoke of “the first signs that indicate the possibility of progress”. — AFP