Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Israel bombs hundreds of targets in Gaza as truce talks continue

(Al Jazeera Media Network) Israel’s attacks on Gaza have stretched into a second day after a seven-day truce with Hamas ended, as talks continue with the Palestinian group to renew a pause in hostilities under the mediation of Qatar and Egypt.

The city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where thousands of civilians moved from the north of the enclave, came under intense bombardment on Friday, when the weeklong truce expired, and intensified on Saturday.

Clouds of grey smoke from the strikes hung over Gaza, where the Hamas-run Ministry of Health said more than 190 people had been killed and hundreds were wounded in renewed Israeli bombardment.

Israel said its ground, air and naval forces struck more than 400 targets in Gaza in its latest attacks. It called on people to evacuate from Khan Younis as it expands its military operations, urging them to move southwards towards Rafah, close to the border with Egypt.

Each of the warring sides blamed the other for the truce collapse by rejecting terms to extend the daily release of hostages held by Hamas fighters in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Qatar, which has played a central mediating role, said negotiations were continuing with Israelis and Palestinians to restore the truce, but Israel’s renewed bombardment of Gaza had complicated matters.

Israel says its priority is to get as many hostages released as possible as it puts military pressure on Hamas.

Officials say Hamas released 110 hostages during the truce – 86 Israelis and 24 foreigners – in exchange for a total of 240 Palestinian prisoners. At the same time, Israel detained almost as many Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

US officials told The Wall Street Journal newspaper that Washington provided Israel with large “bunker buster” bombs, among tens of thousands of other weapons and artillery shells, to help dislodge Hamas from Gaza.

Meanwhile, Israel has informed several Arab states that it wants to carve out a buffer zone on the Palestinian side of Gaza’s border to prevent future attacks, said Egyptian and regional sources, quoted by the Reuters news agency.

The report said that Israel related its plans to neighbours Egypt and Jordan, along with the United Arab Emirates, which normalized ties with Israel in 2020.

There has also been a renewed escalation of hostilities on Israel’s Syrian and Lebanese borders after the truce in Gaza ended.

Syrian air defences repelled an Israeli rocket attack against targets in the vicinity of Damascus early on Saturday, according to Syrian state media, which added that most of the missiles were shot down.

Separately, casualties were reported in southern Lebanon, with Lebanon state media reporting that Israeli shelling killed three people on Friday.

The Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, said two of those killed were its fighters. It added it had carried out several attacks on Israeli military positions at the border.

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