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Netanyahu says at least 13,000 “terrorists” among Palestinians killed

Frankfurt, Germany

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told a German newspaper that at least 13,000 “terrorists” were among Palestinians killed during Israel’s air and ground assault on Gaza.

Five months into Israel’s campaign following the 7th October Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, Palestinian health authorities say nearly 31,000 Palestinians have been killed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Jerusalem, on 18th February, 2024. PICTURE: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun/File photo

The Gaza health ministry does not break down the death toll between civilians and Hamas militants but has said that 72 per cent of those killed were women and children. Hamas dismisses Israeli figures for militants killed as attempts to portray “fake victories”.

In an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper, Netanyahu was quoted as saying that an extension of Israel’s offensive into Rafah in southern Gaza was key to defeating Hamas.

“We are very close to victory…Once we begin military action against the remaining terror battalions in Rafah, it is only a question of weeks” until the intensive phase of fighting is concluded, he said.

Three quarters of Hamas battalions had been destroyed and halting the offensive now would only allow them to regroup, Bild quoted Netanyahu as saying.

Bild made excerpts of the interview, which was jointly held with Politico and German broadcaster Welt TV, available to Reuters on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh blamed Israel on Sunday for stalling ceasefire talks and rejecting Hamas’s demand to end the war on Gaza, but said the group was still seeking a negotiated solution.

Haniyeh said Israel hadn’t yet given a commitment to end its military offensive, pull out its forces and allow displaced Palestinians to return to their homes across the Gaza Strip.

“We don’t want an agreement that doesn’t end the war on Gaza,” said Haniyeh in a televised speech, one day before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins.

“The enemy still refuses to make guarantees and clear commitments over the issue of ceasefire and stopping the aggressive war on our people,” he added.

Haniyeh said his group was determined to defend its people and, at the same time, seek a negotiated solution.

“Today, if we receive a clear position from the mediators, we are ready to proceed with completing the agreement and to show flexibility on the issue of prisoner exchange,” said Haniyeh.

Hamas precipitated the war by killing 1,200 people and abducting 253 in an attack on Israel on 7th October, according to Israeli tallies. In response, Israel launched a ground offensive and aerial bombardment of the densely populated Gaza Strip which, as of Sunday, had killed at least 31,045 Palestinians and wounded 72,654, according to the Hamas-run enclave’s health ministry.

Hamas is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the United States, the European Union, Britain and others.

Haniyeh said his group was open to forming a unity government with the rival Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other factions.

He said steps towards that goal could include electing a Palestinian National Council and forming an interim national consensus government with “specific tasks” until legislative and presidential elections are held.

Efforts to reconcile the two groups and end divisions that worsened following the 2007 takeover of Gaza by Hamas have failed. Abbas’s authority to rule has since been reduced to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Humanitarian aid for Gaza is loaded on a platform at the port of Larnaca, Cyprus, on 10th March, 2024. PICTURE: Reuters/Yiannis Kourtoglou

In Cyprus, a ship carrying tonnes of food for Gaza remained docked on Sunday as preparations were underway to launch a yet untested maritime aid route to the enclave, where the United Nations estimates a quarter of the population faces starvation.

The Open Arms, a salvage vessel, plans to tow a barge with 200 tonnes of food, mostly funded by the UAE. The supplies were sourced by charity World Central Kitchen (WCK), which is working with Spanish non-governmental organisation Proactiva Open Arms.

WCK said it has another 500 tonnes of supplies in Cyprus, which will be dispatched in future missions.

However, the timing on the departure for the aid was unclear. Packing the cargo was completed late on Saturday, but one source said the departure was partly contingent on creating a makeshift jetty in Gaza to facilitate deliveries since the strip has no port infrastructure.

WCK is now constructing that jetty out of rubble.

“I hope @WCKitchen succeeds in delivering a new way to increase the arrival of food in Gaza.. And is [sic] complicated…with so many unknowns and challenges,” WCK’s founder Jose Andres, a Michelin-starred chef, said on social media platform X.

“But we never follow a plan, we adapt! And the plan writes itself as we go. And we will find the way.”

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The pilot project envisages taking aid directly to Gaza, which has been sealed off from the outside world since Israel began its offensive in response to an 7th October attack on Israel by Hamas militants.

This mission, if successful, would effectively signal the first easing of an Israeli naval blockade imposed on Gaza in 2007 after Hamas took control of the Palestinian enclave.

With the humanitarian crisis in Gaza becoming increasingly desperate, international players are scrambling to find alternative routes to supply aid.

The US Army has dispatched a logistics ship carrying equipment, days after US President Joe Biden said the US would build a temporary pier to facilitate aid deliveries.

Cyprus said cargoes are to undergo security inspections in Cyprus by a team including Israel, eliminating the need for screenings at its offloading point to remove potential hold-ups in aid deliveries.



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