February 28, 2024

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Increasing international pressure to reach an agreement between Israel and Hamas

Increasing international pressure to reach an agreement between Israel and Hamas

International pressure to reach a truce agreement between Israel and Hamas, which would include a new release of hostages, intensified on Tuesday despite the threat of an Israeli attack on Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians from the Gaza Strip reside.

CIA Director Richard Burns is scheduled to arrive in Cairo on Tuesday for a Qatari-brokered dialogue on the exchange of Israeli hostages held by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, according to sources close to the talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently ordered his army to prepare for an attack on Rafah, on the border with Egypt, where more than half of Gaza's population is currently concentrated, according to the United Nations.

On Monday, he stressed his determination to continue “military pressure until complete victory” against Hamas, which considers Rafah its “last stronghold,” in order to liberate “all the hostages.”

Hours earlier, Israel released two Israeli-Argentine hostages in Rafah, during a night operation accompanied by bombings that left 100 dead, according to Hamas authorities, which control Gaza.

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The United States, Israel's main ally, opposes a large-scale operation without exit for civilians trapped on the closed border with Egypt at the southern end of Gaza.

US President Joe Biden called on Israeli forces to come up with a “credible” plan to protect the Palestinian population as a precondition for any attack, during a meeting on Monday at the White House with Jordanian King Abdullah II.

Abdullah II said, “We cannot allow an Israeli attack on Rafah,” as the humanitarian situation has become “unbearable,” and called for a “permanent and immediate ceasefire” in the Gaza Strip.

Biden said: “The United States is working to reach a hostage release agreement between Israel and Hamas, which would immediately lead to a period of calm for at least six weeks in Gaza.”

The US President added that this period could lead to “something more sustainable.”

In turn, China, on Tuesday, urged Israel to stop the military operation in Rafah “as soon as possible,” and warned of a “serious humanitarian catastrophe” if the fighting did not stop.

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The conflict broke out on October 7 when Hamas fighters killed about 1,160 people, most of them civilians, and kidnapped about 250 in southern Israel, according to an Agence France-Presse report based on official Israeli data. Among the dead were more than 300 soldiers.

In response, Israel vowed to “annihilate” Hamas, the Islamist movement designated as terrorist by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

The Israeli attack led to the deaths of 28,340 people in the Gaza Strip, most of them women, teenagers and children, according to the Ministry of Health in the Strip.

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Israel says that about 130 hostages remain in Gaza, of whom 29 have died.

A week-long truce in November led to the release of 105 hostages in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians held by Israel.

Facing international fears of a large-scale military attack, Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel would open a “safe corridor” for residents to leave Rafah, without specifying where.

European Union diplomacy chief Josep Borrell asked in Brussels, “Where will they evacuate them? To the moon.”

The UN Secretary-General's spokesman warned that the UN would not join the “forced population displacement” in Rafah.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said the prospect of an attack was “terrifying”, while International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan said he was “deeply concerned” about the fate of civilians.

Hamas warned on Sunday that the attack on Rafah would “blow up” any agreement on the hostages.

The US State Department defended the benefits of such an agreement, both with regard to the release of hostages and the arrival of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

About 1.7 million people, out of Gaza's total population of 2.4 million, have been forced to flee their homes since October 7, amid the Israeli blockade and serious humanitarian crisis.

Rafah, which has turned into a huge camp, is the main entry point for humanitarian aid, and it is insufficient to cover the needs of residents living in “near-famine conditions,” according to the World Food Programme.