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In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official website, an aerial image shows what it says is a column of heavy trucks carrying ammunition hit by a Russian air strike near Aleppo, Syria. — AP
In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official website, an aerial image shows what it says is a column of heavy trucks carrying ammunition hit by a Russian air strike near Aleppo, Syria. — AP

Border camps overflow as Syrians flee regime assault - Five-year-old conflict claims 260,000 lives

GAZA: Hopes mounted Tuesday that Hamas could release dozens of captives from war-torn Gaza after the group’s leader and key mediator Qatar said a truce deal was in sight and the Zionist premier pointed to “progress”. The announcements are the most optimistic yet of a potential breakthrough in the conflict, which has been raging for more than six weeks and left thousands dead.

“We are close to reaching a deal on a truce,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said, according to a statement sent by his office to AFP. In Qatar, foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said “we’re very optimistic, very hopeful” and told reporters: “We are at the closest point we ever had been in reaching an agreement.”

Zionist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to destroy Hamas, was more circumspect, telling soldiers at a military base only that “we are making progress” on the return of captives. In Washington, US President Joe Biden, who does not support a full ceasefire, said a temporary truce was “now very close”.

Hopes of a release deal have been mounting since Qatar on Sunday said only “minor” practical issues remained. Speculation grew further when the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is often involved in prisoner exchanges and hostage releases, said on Monday its president had met Haniyeh in Qatar.

Despite talk of a temporary truce, fighting raged on in Gaza’s bloodiest ever war. According to the Gaza government, the war has killed more than 14,100 people, including nearly 6,000 children and close to 4,000 women. Sources from Hamas and Islamic Jihad told AFP on condition of anonymity that their groups had agreed to the terms of a truce deal.

The tentative agreement would include a five-day truce, comprised of a complete ceasefire on the ground and an end to Zionist air operations over Gaza, except in the north, where they would only halt for six hours daily. Under the deal, which the sources said could yet change, between 50 and 100 Zionist civilian and foreign captives would be released, but no military personnel. In exchange, some 300 Palestinians would be freed from Zionist jails, among them women and minors.

Rafah resident Hamza Abdel Razeq said a ceasefire would bring some respite for Gazans who have endured the Zionist entity’s bombing and expanding ground offensive. “The people are really suffering,” he told AFP. “If they reach a five-day truce deal now, I believe it will pave the way for longer truces or even a total ceasefire.” Another resident, Mahmud Abu Najm, added: “We... pray to God for its success because the people are enduring an unbearable situation.”

Large parts of Gaza have been flattened by thousands of air strikes, and the territory is under siege, with minimal food, water and fuel allowed to enter. According to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad sources, the proposed deal would also allow for up to 300 trucks of food and medical aid to enter Gaza. The Zionist military meanwhile said air strikes had hit “around 250” Hamas targets in the past day, destroying three underground shafts in the Jabalia area, which it said it had fully surrounded. Two Zionist soldiers were killed “in operational activity” in northern Gaza, it added.

In Lebanon, official media said two journalists from Al-Mayadeen television and two other civilians were killed in cross-border shelling in the south. The Committee to Protect Journalists said 53 journalists and media workers have now been killed since the Zionist entity declared war on Hamas. Meanwhile, the health ministry in the occupied West Bank said the Zionist army killed one Palestinian in Nablus.

Medics and patients have been increasingly caught up in the fighting, as the Zionist entity expanded its operation across northern Gaza. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said the Zionist entity had laid siege to and hit the Indonesian Hospital in Jabalia on Monday, killing dozens. Twenty-eight premature babies from Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, were taken to Egypt for treatment on Monday. Three others evacuated from Al-Shifa remain in southern Gaza, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday. Two babies died before the evacuation, the UN agency said.

The Indonesian Hospital lies near Gaza’s largest refugee camp Jabalia, which has been the scene of intense Zionist bombing in recent days. The health ministry official said there were still about 400 patients inside the hospital, as well as 2,000 people seeking shelter. Around 200 people were evacuated from the hospital on Monday and bussed to the relative safety of a hospital in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza. At the packed Al-Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, an AFP reporter saw bloodied children being carried in and lying dazed on gurneys.

The WHO said it was “appalled” by the strike on the Indonesian Hospital, calling it just one of 164 documented attacks on health facilities and workers since the war began. The UN children’s agency meanwhile warned that fuel shortages and worsening sanitation in Gaza were shaping up to be “a perfect storm for tragedy” through the spread of disease. 

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