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GAZA: Wounded Palestinian Nidal Al-Gharib, who lost his wife and daughter, walks past his neighbors' house destroyed by Zionist bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 4, 2024. – AFP
GAZA: Wounded Palestinian Nidal Al-Gharib, who lost his wife and daughter, walks past his neighbors' house destroyed by Zionist bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 4, 2024. – AFP
US demands ‘immediate’ Gaza truce

GAZA: Mediators in Cairo persisted Monday with efforts towards a Gaza truce after the Zionist entity’s top ally the United States stepped up pressure for a halt in fighting and more aid to enter the besieged Palestinian territory. Bombardments and combat killed 124 more people within 24 hours, said the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. Gaza has been devastated and gripped by dire food shortages in the war.

Qatari and Egyptian mediators were meeting with United States and Hamas envoys — but no Zionist delegates so far — in Cairo for a second day of talks. They are aiming for a halt in fighting before the holy fasting month of Ramadan starts on March 10 or 11. An Egyptian TV channel linked to the intelligence service reported “significant progress” towards a deal without giving further details, while a Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the talks were continuing.

The plan under discussion is for a six-week truce, the exchange of dozens of remaining captives for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, and for more aid to enter Gaza — but sticking points remain. Hamas wants the Zionist entity to withdraw all its forces, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted the army will finish its campaign to destroy Hamas, including in Rafah where about 1.5 million Palestinians have tried to find refuge near Egypt’s border. The Zionist entity has also demanded a list of all remaining hostages. It has said it believes 130 of the original 250 captives taken by Hamas remain in Gaza, but that 31 have been killed.

United States Vice President Kamala Harris — whose country provides billions of dollars in military aid to the Zionist entity — called on Sunday for the truce deal to be accepted. She criticized the Zionist entity in unusually strong language over insufficient aid deliveries into Gaza. “Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire for at least the next six weeks, which is what is currently on the table,” she said in a speech in Alabama.

She told Hamas that the group “needs to agree to that deal” while upping the pressure on the Zionist entity by stressing that Gazans were starving in “inhumane” conditions and demanding the Netanyahu government “do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses.”

President Joe Biden faces acute pressure in an election year over his steadfast support for the Zionist entity and Gaza’s soaring civilian death toll, which the health ministry there put at 30,534, mostly women and children. Harris, as well as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, were later set to meet the Zionist entity’s former military chief Benny Gantz in Washington.

Gantz is a member of Netanyahu’s war cabinet — but also a centrist political rival of the rightwing veteran premier, whom he harshly criticized before the war. In a sign of political divisions, David Amsalem, the Zionist entity’s minister of regional cooperation, in a post on social media platform X said Gantz’s “entry into government was intended to create unity at a time of emergency, not to be a Trojan horse”.

While diplomacy takes place the war grinds on. Witnesses reported clashes in Gaza City’s Zeitun neighborhood and the main southern city of Khan Yunis. The Hamas government media office said “dozens of air strikes” and “intense artillery shelling” hit across Gaza. Sameh Abdel Hadi, a displaced Gazan, described being trapped under rubble following an air strike on Rafah. “The whole roof came down,” he said. “For half an hour I couldn’t see anything. Later people came and broke in the door to rescue me.” Five people were killed and three remained missing, he said, adding that no one in the house was involved with the groups fighting the Zionist entity.

Gaza’s hunger crisis came into stark relief last Thursday when more than 100 Palestinians were killed in chaotic scenes around a convoy of aid trucks in Gaza City. Gaza health officials said Zionist forces opened fire into the crowd, while the Zionist entity’s army said most victims were trampled to death or hit by trucks in a crush for food. The UN Security Council voiced concern over Gaza’s “alarming levels of acute food insecurity” and urged “unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale”.

Palestinian families have told AFP of eating ground up animal feed and foraged plants, while the health ministry said at least 16 children have died of malnutrition in Gaza’s aid-deprived north. The UN cites “restrictions” as among the factors hindering delivery of food in Gaza, where it is warning of famine. In an interview published on Saturday, France’s foreign minister said the Zionist entity is “clearly” responsible for aid blockage. King Abdullah II of Jordan called in a meeting with Arab politicians of the Zionist entity for an “immediate ceasefire”, his royal palace said.

The Gaza war has sparked violence across the region. On Monday, a foreign worker in the Zionist entity was killed and at least seven others wounded in a missile strike near the Lebanese border, Israeli medics said. Marine security firm Ambrey reported a Liberian-flagged vessel was targeted off Yemen, whose Iran-backed Houthi rebels, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians, have repeatedly fired on ships in the Red Sea area.

United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk warned that the war “has already generated dangerous spillover in neighboring countries, and I am deeply concerned that in this powder keg, any spark could lead to a much broader conflagration”. – AFP

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