Ceasefire talks hit an impasse

Palestinians react as they gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the Israel-Hamas war in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

Palestinians react as they gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the Israel-Hamas war in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

Published Feb 19, 2024


Prospects for an Israel-Hamas cease-fire dimmed on Sunday after the US signalled it would veto the latest push for a UN Security Council resolution and mediator Qatar acknowledged that separate truce talks have hit an impasse.

Efforts to pause the over four-month-old war languish as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to reject international appeals to spare Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where around 1.4 million people have sought refuge.

Israel’s relentless campaign against Hamas militants has edged closer to the city, with attacks killing at least 10 people there and in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah, according to official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

At the morgue of a Rafah hospital, mourners bent down to give a final kiss to a loved one wrapped in a white body bag. “That’s my cousin – he was martyred in al-Mawasi, in the ‘safe area’,” said Ahmad Muhammad Aburizq. “And my mother was martyred the day before. “There’s no safe place. Even the hospital is not safe.”

A total of 127 people died over the previous 24 hours, the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said on Sunday.

The Gaza war began with Hamas’s October 7 attack which resulted in the deaths of about 1 160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also took about 250 people hostage, 130 of whom are still in Gaza, including 30 who are presumed dead, according to Israeli figures.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel’s retaliatory bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza have killed at least 28 985 people, mostly women and children, said the health ministry.

Egypt, which controls the Rafah border crossing from Gaza, has repeatedly warned against any “forced displacement” of Palestinians into the Sinai desert.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday reiterated his opposition.

In a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, both leaders agreed instead on the “necessity of the swift advancement of a ceasefire”.

Even if a temporary truce deal is struck, Netanyahu said the ground invasion of Rafah will go ahead.

Countries urging Israel otherwise are effectively saying “lose the war”, said the PM, whose coalition includes religious and ultra-nationalist parties.

Netanyahu spoke as thousands protested in Tel Aviv, the latest public call for an immediate election. They also accused the government of abandoning the hostages. “Take politics out of decisions about our loved ones’ lives,” demanded Nissan Calderon, brother of hostage Ofer Calderon. “This is the moment of truth. There won’t be many more like it if the Cairo initiative collapses.”

Next week’s possible UN Security Council vote appears unlikely to advance the ceasefire effort, with Washington already voicing opposition. “The US does not support action on this draft resolution,” said US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Algeria’s draft resolution seeks an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, but Thomas-Greenfield said the US instead supports a truce-for-hostages deal that would pause fighting for six weeks.

US President Joe Biden had “multiple calls” with Netanyahu as well as Egyptian and Qatari leaders this week “to push this deal forward”, she said.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani called those talks “not very promising”. He said the efforts had been complicated by the insistence of “a lot of countries” that any new truce involve further releases of hostages.

His assessment came as Hamas threatened to suspend its involvement in the talks unless relief supplies reach Gaza’s north, where aid agencies have warned of looming famine.

“Negotiations cannot be held while hunger is ravaging the Palestinian people,” a senior source in the Palestinian militant group told AFP.

Earlier, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh reiterated the group’s demands, which Netanyahu called “ludicrous”.

They include a complete pause in fighting, the release of Hamas prisoners and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

Israel’s military on Sunday said troops in the southern city of Khan Yunis are still operating “in the Nasser Hospital” and adjacent to it where they “located additional weapons”.

The ongoing raid followed a week-long siege which has left the hospital “not functional any more” even though 200 patients remain there, World Health Organization chief

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on social media platform X.

He called for access to the facility after a WHO team “was not permitted to enter” for an assessment.

Gaza health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra also said Nasser hospital was out of service, after troops had turned it “into a military barracks”.

He said one more person had died due to lack of oxygen because power has been out for three days, bringing the total of such deaths to seven.