US and Europe make new diplomatic push to stop Gaza war escalating
- Web Desk
- Jan 05, 2024
CAIRO/GAZA/JERUSALEM: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Europe’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, were due in the Middle East on Friday to try to halt the spillover of the conflict in Gaza to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Lebanon and Red Sea shipping lanes.
The visits take place almost three months since the assault on southern Israel by Hamas militants from Gaza sparked an Israeli offensive that Palestinian health officials say has killed 22,600 people and left much of the enclave in ruins.
Israel, which says it has killed 8,000 militants since the deaths of 1,200 people in the Hamas attack on October 7, announced a more targeted approach on Thursday as Blinken set off on a week-long tour of the region.
But Palestinians said Israeli planes and tanks had intensified attacks overnight on densely populated Al-Maghazi, Al-Bureij and Al-Nusseirat in the centre of the coastal strip.
Some 162 Gazans were killed in the past 24 hours, Palestinian health officials said.
Four others were killed in an air strike on a street in Al-Nusseirat, they said, while further south, where hundreds of thousands of Gazans have moved on Israeli advice, six were killed in a strike on Khan Younis.
“The Israeli government claims democracy and humanity, but is inhumane,” Abdel Razek Abu Sinjar said as he cried over the shrouded bodies of his wife and children killed in a Thursday strike on his house in Rafah on the Egyptian border.
Artillery shelling had renewed near the Al-Amal hospital in Khan Younis, the Palestinian Red Crescent said, and aid agency MSF said its workers were cornered in southern Gaza, less and less able to provide desperately needed help.
In Jabalia in northern Gaza which has been heavily bombed, people picked their way through ruined streets filled with sewage and garbage, video footage circulated by local journalists showed. International health officials say both hunger and deadly diseases are spreading.
Israel’s military said it had struck more than 100 targets throughout Gaza in the past 24 hours, destroying gunmen who had tried to attack a tank in Al-Bureij and others in Khan Younis.
The war in Hamas-run Gaza has stoked violence in the West Bank, which is governed by its rivals Fatah and is another territory where Palestinian hopes for statehood have been crushed since the last round of U.S.-mediated talks on a solution broke down in 2014.
The Palestinian health ministry said a 17-year-old was killed and four other Palestinians wounded by Israeli army gunfire in the West Bank town of Beit Rima. A military spokesperson said troops shot at Palestinians who threw petrol bombs at them.
The U.N. rights office has said Israeli forces are using military tactics in the West Bank and 300 Palestinians have been killed, including 79 children, with eight or nine of the people killed by Israeli settlers. Two Israelis, one civilian and one military, have also been killed.
DON’T EXPECT IT TO BE EASY
Blinken is due to visit the West Bank during his tour that begins on Friday in Turkey, which is among countries that have offered to mediate. He will also visit Israel, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt and make a stop in Greece.
“It is in no one’s interest, not Israel’s, not the region’s, not the world’s, for this conflict to spread beyond Gaza,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Thursday. “We don’t expect every conversation on this trip to be easy.”
Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, was due in Lebanon on Friday to discuss the situation at the Israeli-Lebanese border, the EU said.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories from Sunday.
“The risk of escalation is unfortunately very real,” a ministry spokesman said.
Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, is backed by Iran. Other Iranian-backed militants across the Middle East have hit U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria and Israel from Lebanon in what they say are revenge attacks for Israel’s avowed attempt to eliminate the Palestinian Islamist movement.
The leader of Lebanon’s powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, was due to speak on Friday after warning on Wednesday that his militia “cannot be silent” over the killing of Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut.
Hezbollah has had nearly daily exchanges of shelling with Israel across Lebanon’s southern border since the Gaza war began. Israel neither confirmed nor denied assassinating Arouri.
The Iran-aligned Houthis, who control much of Yemen, have fired on commercial vessels in the Red Sea since Nov. 19, forcing them to take much longer routes in a blow to global trade.
ANOTHER HOSTAGE DECLARED DEAD
Under international pressure to shift to less intense combat operations and in the face of economic challenges, Israel has allowed thousands of reservists to return to their jobs from Gaza, where it has listed 175 soldiers as killed in action.
On Thursday, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant outlined what he said was a new stage, with operations in the north to include raids, demolishing tunnels, air and ground strikes.
In the south, where most of Gaza’s 2.3 million population now live in tents and other temporary shelters, the focus would be on wiping out Hamas leaders and rescuing some 132 Israeli hostages remaining of some 240 abducted on Oct. 7.
A 25th hostage had been declared dead, a government spokesperson said on Friday.
Gallant said Gaza would be run by Palestinians after the war so long as there was no threat to Israel, but it was not clear how this would happen. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out a role for the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.