Israel vows to continue Rafah operation after Hamas accepts 11th ...

7 May 2024

By Mohammed Salem, Nidal al-Mughrabi, and Ari Rabinovitch Reuters

Smoke billows after Israeli bombardment in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on 6 May, 2024. Photo: AFP

Rafah - Figure 1
Photo RNZ

Palestinian militant group Hamas has agreed to a Gaza ceasefire proposal from mediators, but Israel says the terms did not meet its demands and pressed ahead with strikes in Rafah while planning to continue negotiations on a deal.

The developments in the seven-month-old war came as Israeli forces struck Rafah on Gaza's southern edge from the air and ground and ordered residents to leave parts of the city, which has been a refuge for more than a million displaced Palestinians.

Hamas said in a brief statement that its chief, Ismail Haniyeh, had informed Qatari and Egyptian mediators that the group accepted their proposal for a ceasefire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said later that Hamas' latest truce proposal falls short of Israel's demands but Israel would send a delegation to meet with negotiators to try to reach an agreement.

In a statement, Netanyahu's office added that his war cabinet approved continuing an operation in Rafah.

"The war cabinet unanimously decided that Israel continue the operation in Rafah to exert military pressure on Hamas in order to advance the release of our hostages and the other goals of the war," the statement said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Israel and Hamas "to go the extra mile needed to make an agreement," his spokesman said.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity said the proposal that Hamas accepted was a watered-down version of an Egyptian offer and included elements that Israel could not accept.

Rafah - Figure 2
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"This would appear to be a ruse intended to make Israel look like the side refusing a deal," said the Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Palestinians celebrate in a street in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, after Hamas announced it has accepted a truce proposal on 6 May, 2024. Photo: AFP

But an official briefed on the peace talks, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the offer Hamas accepted was effectively the same as one agreed at the end of April by Israel.

A US official familiar with truce negotiations told Reuters that Netanyahu and the war cabinet "have not appeared to approach the latest phase of negotiations in good faith."

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Washington would discuss the Hamas response with its allies in the coming hours, and a deal was "absolutely achievable".

"We want to get these hostages out, we want to get a ceasefire in place for six weeks, we want to increase humanitarian assistance," White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said, adding that reaching an agreement would be the "absolute best outcome".

More than 34,600 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, according to Gaza health officials. The UN has said famine is imminent in the enclave.

The war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on 7 October, killing about 1200 people and abducting 252 others, of whom 133 are believed to remain in captivity in Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

Rafah - Figure 3
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Rafah hit by strikes

Any truce would be the first pause in fighting since a week-long ceasefire in November, during which Hamas freed around half of the hostages.

Since then, all efforts to reach a new truce have foundered over Hamas' refusal to free more hostages without a promise of a permanent end to the conflict, and Israel's insistence that it would discuss only a temporary pause.

Taher Al-Nono, a Hamas official and adviser to Haniyeh, told Reuters the proposal met the group's demands for reconstruction efforts in Gaza, return of displaced Palestinians and a swap of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Smoke billows after Israeli bombardment in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on 6 May, 2024. Photo: AFP

The Hamas deputy chief in Gaza, Khalil Al-Hayya, told Al Jazeera television the proposal comprised three phases, each of six weeks, with Israel to pull its troops out of Gaza in the second phase.

Earlier on Monday, Israel ordered the evacuation of parts of Rafah, the city on the Egyptian bordered that has served as the last sanctuary for around half of Gaza's 2.3 million residents.

Israel's closest ally, the United States, has called on it not to assault Rafah, saying it must not do so without a full plan in place to protect civilians there, which has yet to be presented. Washington is committed to stopping Israel's attack on Rafah, the US official said.

Israel said it was conducting limited operations on the eastern part of Rafah. The was being accompanied by massive air strikes, according to Palestinian residents.

"They have been firing since last night and today after the evacuation orders, the bombardment became more intense because they want to frighten us to leave," Jaber Abu Nazly, a 40-year-old father of two, told Reuters via a chat app.

"Others are wondering whether there is any place safe in the whole of Gaza," he said.

Instructed by Arabic text messages, phone calls, and flyers to move to what the Israeli military called an "expanded humanitarian zone" about 20km away, some Palestinian families began trundling away in chilly spring rain.

Some piled children and possessions onto donkey carts, while others left by pick-up or on foot through muddy streets.

As families dismantled tents and folded belongings, Abdullah Al-Najar said this was the fourth time he had been displaced since the fighting began seven months ago.

"God knows where we will go now. We have not decided yet."

- Reuters

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