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Israeli army says body of hostage recovered from Gaza

The Israeli military has said its forces have recovered the body of a hostage held in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

Elad Katzir, a 47-year-old farmer from Kibbutz Nir Oz, was among 253 people taken into Gaza during the 7 October cross-border attack by Hamas gunmen that triggered Israel’s ongoing offensive in the enclave.

Mr Katzir was killed by Islamic Jihad, the military statement said, citing intelligence information which it did not detail. He had previously pleaded for his release in a video issued by his Palestinian Islamic Jihad captors three months ago.

There was no immediate comment on the Telegram channel used by Islamic Jihad during the war.

Mr Katzir’s father, Avraham, was among some 1,200 people killed in the 7 October attack, while his mother Hanna was also taken hostage but freed in November under a ceasefire with Hamas, Gaza’s dominant Islamist movement.

A girl rides a scooter past the rubble of a destroyed building in Rafah

Qatari and Egyptian mediators have been trying, so far fruitlessly, to secure another truce that might return some of the 129 remaining hostages. Hamas wants any deal to end the war, which Gaza health officials say has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians. Israel has said it intends to fight on until Hamas falls.

In a 8 January video posted by Islamic Jihad online, Mr Katzir said: “I was close to dying more than once. It’s a miracle I’m still alive … I want to tell my family that I love them very much and I miss them very much.”

Based on various sources of information, Israel has declared at least 35 hostages as dead in Gaza captivity. Palestinian factions have said some were killed in Israeli strikes. While confirming this in several cases, Israel says that, in others, hostages whose bodies were recovered bore signs of execution.

Fresh push in ceasefire talks

American and Israeli negotiators are expected in Cairo this weekend for a renewed push to reach a ceasefire-hostage deal in a war that reaches the half-year mark tomorrow.

The attempt comes after Israel made a rare admission of wrongdoing during its war against Hamas militants in Gaza.

The military said it was firing two officers for the killing of seven aid workers, most of them Westerners, in the territory where humanitarians say famine is imminent.

Israel’s admission, however, did not quell calls for an independent probe.

Palestinian children wait in long queues with bowls at Derec Neighborhood to receive food for their families

The killing of the workers from US-based World Central Kitchen (WCK) on 1 April led to a tense phone call between United States President Joe Biden and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Biden urged an “immediate ceasefire” and for the first time hinted at conditioning American support for Israel on curtailing the killing of civilians and improving humanitarian conditions.

Fears that the war could spread intensified after Iran promised to hit back for the killing of seven of its Revolutionary Guards in an air strike Monday on the consular annex of its embassy in Damascus.

Ahead of the weekend talks, Mr Biden wrote to the leaders of Egypt and Qatar urging them to secure commitments from Hamas to “agree to and abide by a deal”, a senior administration official told AFP.

Stop-start talks have made no headway since a week-long truce in November saw the exchange of some hostages for Palestinian prisoners detained by Israel.

The White House confirmed negotiations would occur this weekend in Cairo, but would not comment on US media reports that CIA Director Bill Burns would attend along with Israeli spy chief David Barnea, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and Egypt’s intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.

Mr Biden’s call with Mr Netanyahu included discussions on “empowering his negotiators” to reach a deal, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

The United States blames the lack of a deal on Hamas’s refusal to release sick and other vulnerable hostages.

Mr Biden is under pressure over the billions of dollars in US military aid to Israel which, so far, Washington has not leveraged despite increasingly critical words about Israel’s conduct in the war.

US media has reported CIA director William Burns will attend negotiations in Cairo

Charities have accused Israel of blocking aid, but Israel has defended its efforts and blamed shortages on groups’ inability to distribute aid once it gets in.

The Israeli military announced it was firing two officers after finding a series of errors led to the drone strikes that killed the WCK workers as they drove south after supervising the unloading of food aid that arrived on a new sea corridor from Cyprus.

WCK said its operations in Gaza remain suspended after the attack, while other global aid groups said relief work has become almost impossible in Gaza.

The army said a commander “mistakenly assumed” Hamas had seized control of the aid vehicles, which were moving at night.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong said that her country had “not yet received sufficient information” from Israel about the death of Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom and the other aid workers killed.

“It cannot be brushed aside and it cannot be covered over,” Ms Wong said.

WCK said Israel “cannot credibly investigate its own failure in Gaza” and said its staff were attacked despite having “followed all proper communications procedures”.

Britain called for “utmost transparency” and a “wholly independent review”, while Poland sought a “criminal” probe.

Hours after Mr Biden and Mr Netanyahu spoke, Israel announced it would allow “temporary” aid deliveries through the Israeli port of Ashdod and the Erez border crossing.

Germany and the European Commission said the steps should be implemented quickly.

United Nations chief Guterres, however, called for a “paradigm shift” rather than “scattered measures”.

Mahmud Bassal, spokesman for Gaza’s Civil Defence agency, told AFP that whatever aid is reaching Gaza is “absolutely not sufficient” for its 2.4 million people, with basic necessities “extremely scarce” particularly in northern Gaza.

“Children are dying from hunger” there, he said.

Around 1.5 million Gazans are sheltering in the territory’s far south, in Rafah.

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