Israel approves plan for attack on Rafah as aid ship arrives off Gaza

webnexttech | Israel approves plan for attack on Rafah as aid ship arrives off Gaza

Israel has approved a potential assault on the Gaza city of Rafah while also keeping ceasefire hopes alive with plans to send another delegation to Qatar for talks on a possible hostage deal with Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said on Friday he had authorised a plan to attack the city on the southern edge of the Palestinian enclave where more than half of its 2.3 million residents are sheltering after five months of war. Global allies and critics alike have urged Netanyahu to hold off attacking Rafah, for fear of mass civilian casualties. But Israel says it is one of the last strongholds of Hamas, whom it has pledged to eliminate, and that residents will be evacuated. In Washington, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the United States had not seen the Rafah plan, but would like to. He told a regular briefing a Hamas ceasefire-for-hostages proposal was within the bounds of what was possible and expressed cautious optimism about it. Hamas has presented a Gaza ceasefire proposal to mediators and the US, which includes release of Israeli hostages in exchange for freedom for Palestinian prisoners, 100 of whom are serving life sentences, according to a proposal seen by Reuters. A statement from Netanyahu's office on the Rafah attack plan said Hamas' demands for the release of hostages remained unrealistic, but an Israeli delegation would still head to Doha once the security cabinet had discussed its position. The Israeli statement said the Israeli Defence Force was “preparing operationally and for the evacuation of the population” of Rafah. It gave no time frame and there was no immediate evidence of extra preparations on the ground. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Austria the US needed to see a clear plan from Israel for Rafah, including to get civilians out of harm's way. Negotiators failed this week to reach a ceasefire agreement in time for the Ramadan Muslim holy month. Washington and Arab mediators are still determined to reach a deal to head off an assault on Rafah and let in food. There is increasing friction between Washington and Israel, which officials in President Joe Biden's administration say is waging war with too little care for civilians. US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the United States and a leader of Biden's Democratic Party, called on Thursday for Israelis to replace Netanyahu , whose hardline policies he said were wrecking Israel's international standing. Biden said on Friday that Schumer had made “a good speech” and his concerns were shared by many Americans. The United Nations says a quarter of Gazans are on the verge of famine and on Friday, the first ship bringing aid by sea, the Open Arms, arrived off Gaza. Israel said 130 pallets of humanitarian equipment and 115 tonnes of food and water were offloaded to World Central Kitchen (WCK) charity's trucks for distribution after security checks. If the new sea route is successful, it may help to ease hunger in Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of people face malnourishment and hospitals in the worst-stricken northern areas have reported children dying of starvation. However, aid agencies have repeatedly said that plans to bring in aid by air and sea would be far from sufficient as long as most access by land is restricted. Israel, which has sealed off all land routes into Gaza apart from two crossings on its southern edge, denies blame for hunger and says aid agencies should do a better job. Distribution of the limited aid that arrives has been chaotic and frequently violent. In one of the worst reported incidents yet, Gaza health authorities said at least 21 people had been killed and 150 wounded at a queue for aid near Gaza City on Thursday night, blaming Israeli forces for shooting into the crowd. Israel denied its troops were to blame and said Hamas fighters had opened fire. Reuters was not able to independently confirm either account. Israel has bombarded Gaza since Hamas' 7 October attack in which more than 1,200 people were killed, according to the Israeli government, and over 200 hostages taken. More than 31,000 people have been killed in Gaza since 7 October, according to the health ministry in Gaza. The 7 October attack was a significant escalation in the long-standing conflict between Israel and Hamas. Hamas is a Palestinian political and military group, which has governed the Gaza Strip since the most recent elections in 2006. Hamas’s stated aim is to establish a Palestinian state and stop the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, illegal under international law. Hamas in its entirety is listed as a terrorist organisation by the European Union and seven other countries, including Australia. But the UN Assembly rejected classifying Hamas as a terrorist group in a 2018 vote. In 2021 the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes in the Palestinian territories dating back to 2014, including the recent attacks of both Israel and Hamas.

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