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No Deal Yet on New Gaza Cease-fire Plan, as Concerns Grow for Rafah


An Israeli flag flutters amid ruins in the Gaza Strip as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas continues, as seen from Israel, Feb. 13, 2024.
An Israeli flag flutters amid ruins in the Gaza Strip as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas continues, as seen from Israel, Feb. 13, 2024.

Officials from the United States, Israel, Qatar and Egypt ended talks in Cairo on Tuesday with no agreement on a new cease-fire in Gaza or the release of more hostages held by Hamas militants.

The talks were positive, a senior Egyptian official said, and are to continue for three more days.

Meanwhile, international leaders pleaded with Israel to hold off on its planned ground attack on the Palestinian enclave’s southern city of Rafah. Israel says it must root out four battalions of Hamas fighters encamped among more than 1 million Palestinians sheltering there.

Israeli forces on Monday rescued two hostages in Rafah, but 74 Palestinians were killed in the operation.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters, “My sincere hope is that the negotiations for the release of the hostages and some form of cessation of hostilities to be successful, to avoid an all-out offensive over Rafah, where the core of the humanitarian system is located. And that would have devastating consequences.”

As it is, Guterres said, “There is a breakdown in public order” limiting delivery of humanitarian aid to displaced Palestinians, and he blamed Israel.

“We have restrictions imposed by Israel that are not improved and limit humanitarian distribution,” he said. “On the other hand, the deconflicting mechanisms to protect humanitarian aid deliveries in relation to military operations are not effective.”

Palestinian children wait to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen amid shortages of food supplies in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Feb. 13, 2024.
Palestinian children wait to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen amid shortages of food supplies in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Feb. 13, 2024.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Palestinians sheltering in Rafah will be given “safe passage” out of the region near the Egyptian border but has offered no details on where they would be moved. The U.N. has said it will not help in any relocation of the Palestinians, and Egypt has said it will not allow an exodus over the border.

Juliette Touma, a spokesperson for the U.N.'s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, said it had not been informed of any Israeli evacuation plan for Rafah.

"Where are you going to evacuate people to, as no place is safe across the Gaza Strip, the north is shattered, riddled with unexploded weapons, it's pretty much unlivable," she told Reuters.

Rafah residents said Israeli tanks shelled the eastern sector of the city overnight, causing waves of panic.

Gaza health officials said 133 more Palestinians were killed in the last day, pushing the death toll to 28,473 during the war ignited by the shock October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel that killed 1,200 people.

Many people are believed to be buried under rubble of destroyed buildings across the densely populated enclave along the Mediterranean Sea, much of which is in ruins. Supplies of food, water and other essentials are running out and diseases are spreading.

About 100 hostages were freed in a weeklong truce in November. Israel says Hamas is still holding another 100 or so and 31 have died or been killed while in captivity.

One Palestinian official told Reuters the negotiators in Cairo “are looking for a formula that will be acceptable to Hamas, who says it is only possible to sign a deal once it is based on an Israeli commitment to ending its war and pulling out its forces from the Gaza Strip.”

The official said Hamas had told the participants it does not trust Israel not to renew the war if the Israeli hostages being held by Palestinian militants are released.

Netanyahu has vowed to continue the war until all vestiges of Hamas control of Gaza are ended.

Biden, Jordanian King Express Concerns About Rafah Operation in Gaza
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The U.S. has proposed a truce of 60 days or so accompanied by the release of hostages. Hamas proposed a full end of the war with Israeli troops leaving Gaza and Hamas still governing the territory, which Israel rejected.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that while there were some “nonstarters” in the Hamas plan, there was still room to continue negotiations.

Aside from Guterres, other international leaders have expressed concerns about an all-out Israeli attack on Rafah.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters Tuesday that if Israel takes action against Hamas in Rafah, then it is “the responsibility of the Israeli army to provide safe corridors for the people who have sought protection there.”

China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday called on Israel to “do everything possible to avoid casualties among innocent civilians and prevent a more devastating humanitarian disaster in Rafah.”

U.N. human rights chief Volker Turk said in a statement, “Today, sadly, given the carnage wrought so far in Gaza, it is wholly imaginable what would lie ahead in Rafah. Beyond the pain and suffering of the bombs and bullets, this incursion into Rafah may also mean the end of the meager humanitarian aid that has been entering and distributed, with huge implications for all of Gaza, including the hundreds of thousands at grave risk of starvation and famine in the north.”

On Tuesday, South Africa voiced its concern to the International Court of Justice that Israel's plan to extend its offensive into Rafah would result in further large-scale killing and destruction. It asked the World Court to consider whether Israel needed to provide additional measures to safeguard Palestinians.

Last month, the ICJ ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent the deaths of Palestinian civilians, after South Africa, a longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause, accused its military of genocide in Gaza.

Israel has denied it is committing genocide.

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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