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Israel-Hamas war: Gaza between hope of truce and fear of Israeli offensive in the South

Correspondent in Jerusalem.

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Israel-Hamas war: Gaza between hope of truce and fear of Israeli offensive in the South

Correspondent in Jerusalem

Hamas said Monday evening that it had informed Egypt and Qatar that it accepted their proposal for a ceasefire with Israel in the Gaza Strip. “Ismael Haniyeh, head of the Hamas political bureau, spoke by telephone with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdelrahman al-Thani and Egyptian Intelligence Minister Abbas Kamel and informed them that Hamas had approved their proposed ceasefire agreement,” according to a statement published on the Palestinian movement’s website. Hamas estimated that “the ball is now in Israel’s court”. But an Israeli official indicated that certain points of the Qatari-Egyptian proposal were “not acceptable” to the Jewish state. Israel will, however, send a delegation to the mediators, and the United States will “examine” the proposal.

Hamas' announcement was nonetheless greeted with scenes of joy and shots in the air in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, where a wave of panic had blown a little earlier. At the start of the morning, the Israeli army had in fact dropped leaflets demanding the evacuation of the eastern area of ​​this city. Located between the Salah ad-Dine road and the border with Israel, it would be inhabited by 100,000 to 250,000 people who were, on Monday, the only ones to be affected by this evacuation order also transmitted via telephone calls or SMS. This is, the army clarified in a statement published mid-afternoon on Monday, “an operation of limited scope, not a large-scale evacuation of Rafah.” The order would also specify that civilians are not allowed to approach the territory's southern border with Egypt. Around 1.2 million Palestinians have sought refuge in Rafah since the start of the war launched on October 7 by the Hamas terrorist attack.

Also read Israel-Hamas War: the Israeli army faced with the multiplication of its “blunders”

The Israeli army designated an area, secure according to it, where the population would be invited to go. This is a western strip located in the south of the Palestinian territory around the town of al-Mawassi. According to the army press release, “field hospitals, tents, increased quantities of food, water, medicine and equipment” are already on site. But according to Juliette Touma, of UNRWA, the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, “the al-Mawassi area is already overcrowded, with more than 450,000 refugees. It cannot accommodate more people.” Director of communications for UNRWA, she specifies: “Al-Mawassi is like all places in Gaza: it is not secure.” Another humanitarian source claims to have seen “no field hospital or anything of that nature” in the al-Mawassi area.

Does this evacuation order foreshadow a ground operation repeatedly promised by the Israeli government? The army would be ready. On Monday, during a telephone conversation with the US Secretary of Defense, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel had no other choice. On Monday evening, the IDF carried out strikes on the east of the city, as Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched rockets from Gaza towards Israel.

This statement comes after a new rise in tension with Hamas. On Sunday, the Islamist movement fired a salvo of rockets and mortars from Rafah, which fell on an Israeli army camp located near the Kerem Shalom crossing. Four Israeli soldiers were killed. During the night from Sunday to Monday, Israeli bombings killed 16 people in Rafah. They continued on Monday and, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health, 52 people died in 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 34,735 since the start of the war.

Hopes for a truce and the release of Israeli hostages then faded. On Saturday, an anonymous official source, later attributed by the Israeli media to Benjamin Netanyahu himself, announced that, whatever happened, the war would continue and that the army would enter Rafah. This declaration came even though the possibility of an agreement with Hamas on the release of some 130 Israeli hostages held captive for seven months seemed to be approaching.

The “official source” would have liked to torpedo the negotiations if it would not have gone about it otherwise. The question of the continuation of military operations in the Gaza Strip is in fact the major point of disagreement between the two parties, the Islamist movement demanding a cease-fire while Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his coalition continue to advocate a “total victory”, that is to say the dismantling of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This requires a military operation in Rafah. On Monday, Hamas promised that a military operation in Rafah “would not be a picnic” for the Israeli army.

Stuck between the two belligerents, the civilian population does not know which way to turn. On Monday, in the rain, thousands of people fled without really knowing where to go. Taking refuge in Rafah with a member of her family, Asma, a resident of Khan Younes, is reluctant to return home. The Israeli army left his city. His building is still standing. But his apartment no longer has any windows and, above all, there is no water. “We lost all hope of a truce this morning,” she explains. Originally from the northern Gaza Strip, where her house was destroyed in a bombing, Amal lives in a tent near Rafah. She is afraid of having to flee again. “It’s difficult to see the same suffering repeated,” she admits.

The prospect of a ground operation in Rafah raises the question of humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip. A continuous flow of 500 trucks per day is needed to meet the needs of 2.5 million residents. But since the Hamas bombing on Sunday, the Kerem Shalom terminal, the gateway to Israel, has been closed. That of Rafah, very close and overlooking Egypt, would not be completely. In the north of the Gaza Strip, the Erez crossing is now presented as functional by the Israeli army. The American army, for its part, continues construction work on the floating port, offshore, halfway up the Palestinian territory, where ships from Cyprus will be able to unload aid which would then be transported to land by small boats. Then, the question of distribution to a hungry population will arise, in a territory prey to anarchy.

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