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Home / News / Blinken due in Middle East in new push for Gaza ceasefire

Blinken due in Middle East in new push for Gaza ceasefire

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to return to the Middle East today in a new attempt to secure a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Following a failed attempt to secure a ceasefire in the war in Gaza by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last week, a new round of negotiations hosted by key mediator Qatar has begun.

On the ground, however, there was no sign of any letup in the war that has devastated much of Gaza and forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to seek refuge in the south of the besieged territory.

The war broke out after an unprecedented attack by Hamas on 7 October resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

A child receives medical attention at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah

Militants also seized about 250 hostages, of whom Israel believes 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 who are presumed dead.

Israel has responded with a relentless offensive against Hamas that has killed at least 31,819 people, most of them women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Nearly six months into the war, the United States has repeatedly called on its ally to allow an increase in the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Mr Blinken is due in Saudi Arabia and in Egypt, which neighbours Gaza and has been involved in previous mediation efforts.

He had yesterday said everyone in Gaza was now suffering “severe levels of acute food insecurity”.

“That’s the first time an entire population has been so classified,” he said during a visit to the Philippines.

People pass by the damaged Burj al-Masri building after Israeli attacks in Rafah

A UN-backed assessment meanwhile said more than 300,000 people in the enclave’s north would face famine by May without an increase in aid.

UN rights chief Volker Turk said Israel was blocking aid and conducting the conflict in a way that “may amount to the use of starvation as a method of war”.

AFPTV footage from Gaza showed desperate crowds gathered at the Jabalia refugee camp to get a portion of carrot soup.

“We came to queue, but they threw us out,” said Jabalia resident Musaab al-Masry, adding that there was not enough food for everyone.

Israel’s spy chief David Barnea began a new round of talks with Egyptian and Qatari mediators on Monday.

Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari said he was “cautiously optimistic” but it was “too early to announce any successes”.

Mr Ansari said they were expecting a counterproposal to be presented to Hamas after both sides rejected previous offers, adding that technical talks would continue.

Despite the resumption of talks, there was little indication of an imminent agreement.

A woman walks near an accumulation of waste in puddles post-rainfall as Palestinians grapple with heavy rain and floods amidst Israeli attacks in Deir Al-Balah

Israeli troops yesterday conducted an assault on Gaza’s biggest hospital, which they allege Hamas uses for military purposes, and said more than 50 fighters had been killed and around 300 suspects arrested and taken for questioning.

In response to the Israeli operation at the Al-Shifa complex, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh accused Israel of seeking to “sow chaos and perpetuate violence” and “sabotage ongoing negotiations in Doha”.

Israel has long accused militants of using hospitals as bases and troops previously raided Al-Shifa last November, sparking an international outcry.

Military spokesman Daniel Hagari said this week that Palestinian militants and commanders had since returned to Al-Shifa “and turned it into a command centre”.

An army statement said “dozens of prominent terrorists” from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad were among those arrested in the operation.

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Witnesses reported air strikes and tanks near the hospital compound, which is crowded with thousands of displaced civilians, as well as the sick and wounded.

According to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza, 90 people were killed in the early hours of this morning, including 30 in Gaza City.

Another major area of concern for the United States, the United Nations and aid groups has been the fate of Rafah in southern Gaza.

Since the war erupted, the area’s population has increased to around 1.5 million with hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes elsewhere in the territory seeking shelter there.

US President Joe Biden has put pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pull back from a threatened full-scale ground operation.

However, Mr Netanyahu said he told Mr Biden “we are determined to complete the elimination of these battalions in Rafah, and there is no way to do this without a ground incursion”.

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