US urges ‘immediate’ ceasefire as Gaza war grinds on

UN Security Council for first time demands 'immediate' Gaza ceasefire, US abstains
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The US top diplomat stressed Thursday the need for an “immediate ceasefire” and a deal to free hostages in war-torn Gaza as he visited Egypt for talks with Arab envoys.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on his latest Middle East crisis tour, was trying to shore up support for a truce as the Israel-Hamas war ground on and experts issued a further warning about the risk of famine in Gaza.

Washington, Israel’s top ally, has hardened its tone in recent weeks and circulated for the first time a draft UN Security Council resolution calling for an “immediate” end to the fighting.

However, the Israeli bombardment of Gaza has continued with at least 70 people killed overnight, pushing the overall toll towards 32,000, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Gaza’s biggest hospital has emerged as a major flashpoint after Israel launched a days-long raid on Monday that it said had killed more than 140 fighters by Thursday.

Israel said militants were hiding out at the vast Al-Shifa hospital complex and civilians had not been harmed. Hamas said the ongoing attack on an area crowded with patients and people seeking refuge was a crime.

AFP images showed streams of people fleeing south from the hospital along Gaza’s coast.

A 60-year-old patient who gave his name as Younis said he had been forced outside without clothes, blindfolded and interrogated before being freed.

The soldiers “beat all the young men and arrested them”, Younis told AFP.

‘Strong message’

The US has vetoed previous UN Security Council texts on the war, objecting even last month to the term “immediate” in a draft submitted by Algeria.

A new version circulated by the US and seen by AFP stressed “the need for an immediate and durable ceasefire” to protect civilians and allow aid into the territory.

No vote has been scheduled on the text but Blinken told Saudi media outlet Al Hadath on Wednesday that universal support for the resolution would send a “strong message”.

The US secretary of state, who will land in Israel on Friday, was due to hold talks on Thursday with ministers from five Arab countries, who released a joint statement backing an immediate ceasefire and urging Israel to open all crossings into Gaza.

In Qatar, mediators were still trying to thrash out a ceasefire deal that would allow hostages to be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and aid deliveries to be increased.

Blinken said a deal was “very much possible” though a Hamas official said on Wednesday Israel’s response to the group’s latest proposal had been “largely negative”.

The US and Israel are also engaged in a diplomatic tug-of-war over the southern Gaza city of Rafah, the last part of the territory still largely untouched by Israeli ground troops.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have fled to the city to escape fighting elsewhere, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted a ground incursion is the only way to finally root out Hamas.

US officials said they supported Netanyahu’s goal but wanted Israel to try strategies short of a potentially catastrophic invasion of an area where around 1.5 million people are hemmed in by the Egyptian border.

‘Point of explosion’

The bloodiest-ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s attacks resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also seized about 250 hostages, of whom Israel believes 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 who are presumed dead.

Israel’s military has waged a retaliatory offensive against Hamas that has killed 31,988 people, most of them women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Tensions have also flared in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli troops and settlers have killed more than 440 Palestinians since the Gaza war began, according to Palestinian officials.

The Israeli military killed four during a pre-dawn raid on a refugee camp near Tulkarem, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, warned that Israel’s war had “dragged the entire region to the point of explosion… and everyone will pay the price for this Israeli recklessness”.

Gaza’s civilian infrastructure has largely collapsed in the face of Israel’s onslaught and UN agencies are warning that the territory’s 2.4 million people are on the brink of famine.

A UN panel of independent experts warned Thursday that children in Gaza were already “starving to death”.

“They are cut off from food, even crumbs are not easy to find,” said the panel that oversees compliance with the UN child rights convention.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said this week that “siege, hunger and diseases will soon become the main killer in Gaza”.

And the Saudi government announced it would donate $40 million to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which has been central to aid operations in Gaza.

Many of Israel’s allies suspended funding for the agency after Israel accused 12 of its 13,000 Gaza staff of taking part in the October 7 attack. Several have since resumed their contributions.


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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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