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Israel resumes Gaza terror

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Picture: Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP / Taken on November 26, 2023 – A woman hugs a newly released Palestinian prisoner in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on November 26, 2023, as crowds welcome detainees released from Israeli jails in exchange for Israeli hostages released by Hamas from the Gaza Strip.

By Reuters and AFP

A temporary truce between Israel and Gaza’s the Palestinian group Hamas expired at 7am yesterday with neither side announcing a deal to extend it.

In the hour before the truce was set to end, Israel said it intercepted a rocket fired from Gaza and Hamas-affiliated media reported sounds of explosions and gunfire in the Palestinian enclave.

The seven-day pause, which began on November 24 and was extended twice, had allowed for the exchange of dozens of hostages held in Gaza for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and facilitated the entry of humanitarian aid into the enclave.

Israel’s military said yesterday it had resumed fighting in Gaza, with airstrikes and artillery fire reported in Gaza City. “Hamas violated the operational pause, and in addition, fired toward Israeli territory,” the Israeli military said. “The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) has resumed combat against the Hamas terrorist organisation in the Gaza Strip.”

Inside Gaza, an AFP journalist said Israeli warplanes carried out a series of strikes, and reported artillery fire in Gaza City. Drones could also be heard in the air over the south of the territory for the first time since the truce, the reporter in the area said.

The resumption of fighting dashed hopes for an extension of a seven-day truce that had seen dozens of hostages freed in exchange for Palestinian prisoner releases by Israel.

The truce also allowed more aid into the ravaged Gaza Strip. On Thursday, US top diplomat Antony Blinken, meeting Israeli and Palestinian officials, called for the pause in hostilities to be extended, and warned any resumption of combat must protect Palestinian civilians.

The truce had paused fighting that began on October 7 when Hamas militants broke through Gaza’s militarised border into Israel. The surprise attack killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and militants kidnapped about 240, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas in response and unleashed an air and ground military campaign in Gaza that the Hamas government says has killed at least 15 000 people, mostly civilians.

During the truce brokered by Qatar, 80 Israeli hostages were freed in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners. More than 20 foreigners, most of them Thais living in Israel, were freed outside the scope of the agreement.

Overnight, six more Israelis, some holding dual nationality, were released, hours after two women were freed. That brought the total freed on Thursday to eight, less than the 10 hostages a day the truce deal required Hamas to release.

A source close to the militant group said it was counting two Russian-Israeli women released on Wednesday as part of the seventh batch. Not long after the hostages arrived in Israel, the country’s prison service said another 30 Palestinian prisoners – 23 minors and seven women – had been freed.

After meeting leaders in Israel and the occupied West Bank, Blinken said Washington wanted “to see this process continue to move forward”. “We want an eighth day and beyond.”

A source close to Hamas said the group backed another extension and mediators were working to prolong the pause, but the negotiations appeared to have failed.

Israel made it clear it viewed the truce as a temporary pause to secure the release of hostages. “We swore … to eliminate Hamas, and nothing will stop us,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video released by his office, after meeting with Blinken.

His government has come under increasing pressure, however, to account for how it will protect civilians in the territory, which is under blockade, with no way for people to escape.

Blinken warned that any resumed military operation by Israel “must put in place humanitarian civilian protection plans that minimise further casualties of innocent Palestinians”.

Specifically, Israel must “clearly and precisely” designate areas “in southern and central Gaza, where they can be safe and out of the line of fire”, he said.

International bodies have called for more time to get medical supplies, food and fuel into Gaza, where an estimated 1.7 million people have been forced from their homes.

The truce had allowed people to return to the ruins of their homes to pick through the rubble for remaining belongings and provided a sense of safety after weeks of what had been a daily bombardment.

“We are afraid that the truce will end, so the problems and the bombings will start again,” Gaza City resident Mohamad Naasan said on Thursday. “I hope that the truce resumes … so peace prevails, and we all go back home.”

The pause in fighting had not tempered violence elsewhere.

Jerusalem

On Thursday morning, two gunmen opened fire at a bus stop in Jerusalem, claimed by Hamas. The morning attack saw two gunmen kill three people and wound eight others at a bus stop in the western part of the city.

The gunmen, who police said were from east Jerusalem, were shot dead at the scene. Separately, two Israeli soldiers were lightly injured in a ramming attack on a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, the army said, adding the assailant had also been “shot and neutralised”.

The violence in Gaza has also raised tension in the West Bank, where nearly 240 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers since October 7, according to the Ramallah-based Palestinian health ministry.

The New York Times reported overnight that Israeli authorities were aware Hamas was planning a major assault, and had obtained a blueprint for the attack, which the group appears to have largely followed on October 7.

Intelligence and military officials dismissed the plan as aspirational, even after a signals analyst warned the group had carried out a training exercise in line with the plan, according to the report. – Reuters and AFP