Berliner Tageblatt - Gaza war rages as US wants to 'close' truce deal

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Gaza war rages as US wants to 'close' truce deal
Gaza war rages as US wants to 'close' truce deal / Photo: © POOL/AFP

Gaza war rages as US wants to 'close' truce deal

Top US diplomat Antony Blinken said Wednesday an elusive truce and hostage release deal to end the Gaza war was still possible, wrapping up a Middle East tour as deadly fighting rocked the Palestinian territory.

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Lebanon's Iran-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah, meanwhile, rained rockets on northern Israel, a day after an Israeli strike killed one of its senior commanders.

In Geneva, a UN probe concluded Israel had committed crimes against humanity in its military campaign in the Gaza Strip since Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Doha for his last stop on a crisis tour to promote President Joe Biden's proposal for a Gaza ceasefire, said the United States would work with regional partners to "close the deal".

Hamas late Tuesday submitted its response to mediators Qatar and Egypt.

"We believe that some of the requested changes are workable and some are not," Blinken said.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told AFP the proposed amendments call for "a permanent ceasefire and complete withdrawal" of Israeli troops from Gaza, demands rejected by Israel.

The plan would start with a six-week ceasefire and the exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners and, in three negotiated phases, lead to the rebuilding of Gaza.

Blinken said Israel was behind the plan, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government has far-right members strongly opposed to the deal, has yet to formally endorse it.

The top US diplomat said not all of Hamas's demands were acceptable but expressed hopes that gaps could be closed.

"We have to see... over the course of the coming days whether those gaps are bridgeable," he said.

In central Gaza's Bureij refugee camp, resident Ahmed al-Rubi said he hoped a deal would end the "severe suffering we are going through".

"I hope for a ceasefire," he told AFP. "What has happened to us is enough."

- Hezbollah rockets -

As the bloody Gaza war rages into its ninth month, deadly violence has also erupted along Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

An Israeli strike on Tuesday killed Hezbollah commander Taleb Sami Abdallah, described by a Lebanese military source as the group's "most important" fighter killed in near-daily exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah since the Gaza war erupted.

The Israeli military confirmed it had "eliminated" Abdallah. It accused him of attacks on Israelis.

On Wednesday air raid sirens blared across northern Israel as three waves of about 150 rockets and missiles filled the sky, according to the military.

Some were intercepted while others struck inside Israel and sparked fires, the military said, reporting no casualties.

Hezbollah said it targeted army positions, and Israel's military said it retaliated.

Senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine, speaking at Abdallah's funeral, threatened to "increase the intensity, strength, quantity and quality of our attacks".

Netanyahu warned last week that the army was "prepared for a very intense operation" along the Lebanese border and that "one way or another, we will restore security to the north".

In Doha, Blinken said "the best way" to help resolve the Hezbollah-Israel violence was "a resolution of the conflict in Gaza and getting a ceasefire".

"That will take a tremendous amount of pressure out of the system."

- Bombardment and battles -

Israel's military kept up its bombardment and ground operations inside Gaza, where a witness said there was ongoing "aerial and artillery shelling" in the southern city of Rafah.

The Israeli military said troops had engaged in "close-quarters encounters" in Rafah, and that the air force struck more than "30 terror targets" across Gaza during the past day.

A child was killed and several wounded in an Israeli bombardment targeting a Rafah house, a medic at Al-Nasser Hospital said. Air strikes and shelling also hit nearby Khan Yunis.

Farther north, the Civil Defence agency reported at least four dead in a strike on a house in the Zeitun neighbourhood of Gaza City, where a hospital earlier said a pre-dawn strike killed seven people in a family house.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas's October 7 attack which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 of them are dead.

Israel in response launched a military offensive on Gaza that has left at least 37,202 people dead, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-ruled territory's health ministry.

The toll includes at least 38 deaths in the past 24 hours, the ministry said on Wednesday.

- 'Tired, dead, destroyed' -

The war has sparked a global outcry and demands for Israel to end it, with the UN Security Council and major world and Arab powers voicing support for the proposed ceasefire.

"Hamas does not see that we are tired, we are dead, we are destroyed," a Gaza man told AFP, giving his name as Abu Shaker.

"What are you waiting for?" he said. "The war must end at any cost. We cannot bear it any longer."

A UN investigation concluded on Wednesday that Israel has committed crimes against humanity during the Gaza war, including that of "extermination". It found both Israeli and Palestinian forces had committed war crimes.

The Commission of Inquiry, established by the UN Human Rights Council, noted "a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population in Gaza" including "starvation as a method of warfare".

The probe also concluded that members of Hamas, other Palestinian armed groups and civilians participating in the October 7 attack "deliberately killed, injured, mistreated, took hostages and committed sexual and gender-based violence".