GAZA: Efforts intensified Wednesday to extend a halt in deadly violence in Gaza as a truce was set to expire, with a source saying Hamas was willing to free more Zionist captives in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. A current cessation of hostilities was scheduled to end early Thursday after a six-day pause in a conflict sparked by deadly Hamas attacks that prompted a devastating Zionist military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to travel to the Zionist entity on Wednesday to push for an extension of the pause in fighting, while UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres demanded a more lasting ceasefire. Gazans are “in the midst of an epic humanitarian catastrophe,” Guterres said, after seven weeks of bombing that have left buildings levelled and inhabitants short of food and water. “Intense negotiations are taking place to prolong the truce — which we strongly welcome — but we believe we need a true humanitarian ceasefire,” he told a UN Security Council meeting.
Sixty Zionist captives and 180 Palestinian prisoners have been released under the truce agreement to the joy of their relatives — but Wednesday also saw fresh reminders of the tragic stakes of the conflict. The Zionist army said it was investigating a report by Hamas’ armed wing that a 10-month-old baby, his four-year-old brother and their mother had all been killed in Gaza in Zionist strikes.
As the pause in hostilities brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States entered its sixth day, a source close to Hamas told AFP on condition of anonymity the militant group “informed the mediators that it is willing to extend the truce for four days”. Under that arrangement, “the movement would be able to release (Zionist) prisoners that it, other resistance movements and other parties hold during this period, according to the terms of the existing truce,” the source added.
Speaking after a NATO meeting in Brussels, Blinken said he would be “focused on doing what we can to extend the pause so that we continue to get more hostages out and more humanitarian assistance in”. Zionist media reported that the country’s government had received a list of the new group of captives to be freed on Wednesday in the last round of releases under the current truce terms. There was no official confirmation.
On Tuesday, militants freed 12 captives from Gaza -- 10 Zionists plus two Thais. The Zionist entity in turn released a further 30 Palestinians, sparking joyous scenes in the West Bank. Those exchanges followed the extension of an initial four-day truce period. Hamas has released more than 20 other captives outside the scope of the truce agreement, mostly Thais.
On Wednesday, Hamas said it had handed over two more women captives with Russian citizenship to the Red Cross in Gaza in a gesture to the “efforts” of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some of the captives in Gaza are in the hands of another Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad. Its spokesman Musab Al-Breim told AFP on Tuesday that “the war is now continuing in indirect negotiations with the (Zionist) occupier”. He said his group and Hamas were “committed” to respecting the truce agreement “as long as the occupier does so, and we are ready to pursue a political route to make the occupier pay”.
The World Food Program has warned that Gaza’s population faces a “high risk of famine if WFP is not able to provide continued access to food”. Conditions in the territory were “catastrophic”, the agency’s Middle East director Corinne Fleischer said. A spokesman for the UN children’s agency UNICEF said aid entering Gaza under the truce deal was “not even enough for triage”, or emergency care.
An estimated 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to leave their homes so far, more than half the territory’s population, according to the United Nations. “I discovered that my house had been completely destroyed -- 27 years of my life to build it and everything is gone!” said Taghrid Al-Najjar, 46, after returning to her home in southeastern Gaza. “For two days I couldn’t eat, then I told myself that I had to continue living,” she told AFP. “My house is destroyed but my children are alive, so we will rebuild.”
The Zionist entity has made clear it sees the truce as an interlude to ensure captive releases before its war to destroy Hamas continues. Blinken said he believed an extension was in the Zionist entity’s interest. “They’re also intensely focused on bringing their people home, so we’re working on that,” he said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the Security Council: “Resumed fighting would only, most likely, turn into a calamity that devours the whole region.” The Zionist entity’s allies have been wary of calling for a complete end to military operations designed to eliminate Hamas, but foreign ministers from the Group of Seven nations have also urged a longer truce. – AFP