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Israel, Hamas Battle in Gaza as Warring Sides Consider New Temporary Cease-Fire

Written by on February 1, 2024

Israel said Thursday its troops battled Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip, including killing dozens of fighters in central and northern Gaza, while Israeli airstrikes hit Khan Younis in the southern part of the strip.

The fighting went on as the negotiators of a proposed new cease-fire waited to hear of progress in securing agreement between Israel and Hamas that would bring a short-term halt in fighting and the release of prisoners held by Hamas in Gaza.

The outline for the proposal came out of talks in Paris among U.S., Israeli, Qatari and Egyptian officials earlier this week. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was expected to travel to Cairo to discuss the plan.

Asked about the details of the proposal during a briefing Wednesday at the White House, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said no pieces were final until the deal itself was finalized.

“I will tell you that, in broad strokes, we are looking at an extended pause is the goal,” Kirby told reporters. “How long? That’s all part of the discussions, but longer than what we saw in November, which was about a week.”

More than 100 hostages taken by Hamas during its October 7 terror attack on Israel were released during the November cease-fire in exchange for 240 Palestinians jailed by Israel. Hamas is believed to still be holding another 100 or so hostages.

Kirby said it is possible to get more hostages out of Gaza if there is a longer cease-fire, and that a longer pause would also facilitate increasing the flow of humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza.

“We want to see this deal in place,” Kirby said. “We want to see it in place as soon as possible.”

Hamas has called for a permanent cease-fire and the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

Israel vowed to destroy Hamas, which governs Gaza and has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States, Britain, the European Union and others. Israel launched its offensive in Gaza shortly after the Hamas attack that killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli tallies.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says the number of people killed in Israel’s counteroffensive is 26,900. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and militants in the count but says most of those killed were women and children.

The United Nations relief agency for Palestinians said that with the intense warfare in the region, 184,000 people have registered for humanitarian assistance in recent days and fled closer to the Mediterranean coastline.

Palestinian aid

U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths told the U.N. Security Council Wednesday that an estimated 75% of Gaza’s population has been displaced, and that they are living in conditions that are “abominable and worsening by the day.”

He highlighted a lack of adequate shelter, food and clean water, and said that with poor public health support, “preventable diseases are rife, and will continue to spread.”

“Each day that passes only deepens the misery and suffering of people in Gaza,” Griffiths told the council.

He called for multiple access points from Egypt and Israel to bring in humanitarian aid, as well as greater access to civilians, particularly in central and northern Gaza where aid workers are largely unable to reach those in need.

The humanitarian chief’s comments came amid a suspension in funding by major donors to the U.N. relief agency for Palestinian refugees following Israeli allegations that a dozen UNRWA staffers may have been involved in the October 7 terror attack.

UNRWA employs 13,000 mainly Palestinian staff in Gaza. It has continued to work since October 7 to provide some relief to nearly 2 million displaced Palestinians. More than 150 UNRWA staff have been killed in the fighting between Israel and Hamas. But the U.N. says aid could soon be in jeopardy if funding is not resumed.

Of the dozen staffers implicated by Israel in the deadly attacks, the U.N. immediately fired nine of them, one was confirmed dead, and officials are clarifying the identity of two others. The U.N. has opened an internal investigation.

Israel has criticized UNRWA for years, alleging that the schools the agency operates have been used by Hamas for terrorist activities and that they promote an anti-Israel curriculum. Since the October 7 attacks, Israeli officials have accused some agency staffers of celebrating the attacks on social media.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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