Peace talks amid Lebanon strikes

The strikes in south Lebanon killed four civilians including two children and wounded nine other people. Picture: AFP

The strikes in south Lebanon killed four civilians including two children and wounded nine other people. Picture: AFP

Published Feb 15, 2024


Negotiations to pause the Israel-Hamas war headed into a second day in Cairo on Wednesday, as Israel launched a series of deadly strikes on Lebanon, stoking fears of an escalating conflict in the region.

Mediators in Egypt were racing to secure a ceasefire and free the remaining hostages before Israel proceeds with a full-scale ground incursion into the Gaza Strip’s crowded far-southern city of Rafah.

A Hamas source said that a delegation was headed to Cairo to meet Egyptian and Qatari mediators after Israeli negotiators held talks with the mediators on Tuesday.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas urged Hamas to “quickly complete a prisoner deal, to spare our Palestinian people from the calamity of another catastrophic event”.

CIA Director William Burns had joined Tuesday’s talks with David Barnea, head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, which Egyptian media said had been mostly “positive”.

US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby described the negotiations as “constructive and moving in the right direction”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an outspoken critic of Israel’s conduct, also arrived in Cairo on Wednesday for talks with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

With regional tensions high, Israel launched strikes on Lebanon hours after fire from Lebanon wounded multiple people in northern Israel, according to medics.

The strikes in south Lebanon killed four civilians including two children and wounded nine other people, a Lebanese security source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Since the outbreak of the Hamas-Israel war on October 7, more than 240 people have been killed in Lebanon, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also including over 30 civilians.

Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has traded fire with Israeli troops almost daily, with tens of thousands of people displaced on both sides of the border.

The potential for mass civilian casualties in Rafah has triggered urgent appeals, even from close allies, for Israel to hold off sending troops into the last major population centre they have yet to enter in the more than four-month-old war.

The US, a key Israeli ally, has said it would not back any ground operation in Rafah without a “credible plan” for protecting civilians.

Rafah, where more than 1.4 million Palestinians are trapped, is the main entry point for desperately needed relief supplies and UN agencies have warned of a humanitarian disaster if an assault is launched.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said any military operation “could lead to a slaughter”.

Terrified civilians have been locked in a desperate search for safety.

Pressure has grown on Egypt to open its border to Palestinian civilians, hundreds of thousands of whom have sought shelter in makeshift camps by the border where they face outbreaks of disease and a scarcity of food and water.

US President Joe Biden has said civilians in Rafah “need to be protected”.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that “complete victory” cannot be achieved without the elimination of Hamas’s last battalions in Rafah.

As the truce talks continue in Cairo, the Israeli military has kept up its bombardment of Gaza, with strikes on Rafah and the southern city of Khan Yunis, where there has been heavy fighting.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run territory on Wednesday said that 104 people were killed overnight.

The World Health Organization sounded a warning on Wednesday about an under-siege hospital in Khan Yunis, which it said it had been unable to contact for weeks. Requests to assess and re-stock the hospital with medical supplies had been denied.

Some Gazans in Rafah were already packing up their belongings in readiness to move, but others vowed to stay put, fearing even greater misery in the bombed hometowns they fled.

However, there are mounting fears about food supplies and starvation across other parts of Gaza.

The Hamas attack in October resulted in the deaths of about 1160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

At least 28576 people have been killed in Israel’s response, according to the latest health ministry figures. About 130 of an estimated 250 people taken hostage by Palestinian militants during the attack are believed to remain in Gaza. Israel says 29 of them are presumed dead.

On Wednesday, about 100 representatives of the Gaza hostages flew to The Hague to file a “crimes against humanity” charge against Hamas leaders at the International Criminal Court.

Cape Times