Israel-Hamas war rages in besieged Gaza on eve of Ramadan

Deadly fighting raged in Gaza on Sunday between Israeli forces and Hamas militants, with no truce in sight as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan neared and a dire humanitarian crisis gripped the besieged Palestinian territory.

A Spanish charity ship with food aid prepared to sail from the Mediterranean island-nation of Cyprus to help alleviate the suffering in the coastal Gaza Strip, now in its sixth month of war.

The non-governmental group Open Arms said its boat would pull a barge with 200 tonnes of food, which its partner the US charity World Central Kitchen would then unload on the shores of Gaza.

Vessel tracking websites showed the Open Arms still in Larnaca on Sunday evening. It was expected to depart “in the coming hours”, Cypriot government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis told Cyprus News Agency.

With the UN repeatedly warning of famine, United States, Jordanian and other planes again airdropped food aid, but the United Nation’s aid coordinator for the area has said more supply by land is the best way to get assistance to territory’s 2.4 million people.

The war started by the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel has killed 31,045 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza where vast swathes have been reduced to a bombed-out wasteland.

Weeks of talks involving United States, Qatari and Egyptian mediators have aimed for a six-week truce and the release of many of the roughly 100 hostages Hamas is still holding in return for Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails.

There have been no result so far.

The widely shared target had been to halt the fighting by the start of Ramadan, which is expected to begin as early as Monday depending on the first sighting of the crescent moon.

Both sides have blamed each other for failing to reach a deal, after Israel had demanded a full list of surviving hostages, and Hamas had called for Israel to pull out all its troops from Gaza.

Israel’s government accused Hamas of “entrenching its positions like someone who is not interested in a deal and is striving to inflame the region during Ramadan”.

Attention during the Muslim fasting month will focus on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in annexed east Jerusalem, a frequent flashpoint in the past as it is both Islam’s third holiest site and sacred to Jews who call it the Temple Mount.

A source with knowledge of the truce talks told AFP that “there will be a diplomatic push especially in the next 10 days” with a view to securing a deal within the first half of Ramadan as negotiations between all parties continued.

– ‘Enough of this war!’ –

United States President Joe Biden reiterated on Saturday that Israel has “a right to continue to pursue Hamas”, but also stressed his growing impatience with Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

With the death toll ever-increasing, Biden told broadcaster MSNBC that Netanyahu “must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken”.

At this stage, said Biden, Netanyahu’s approach to the war was “hurting Israel more than helping Israel”.

The comments came after Israeli protesters again took to the streets of Tel Aviv for anti-government rallies, joined by some of the desperate families and friends of hostages still held by Hamas.

Biden also signalled he would be willing to speak directly to the Israeli people through an address to the Knesset legislature.

Hamas’s attack which started the war resulted in about 1,160 deaths, mostly civilians, according to Israeli official figures.

The militants also took around 250 hostages, dozens of whom were released during a week-long truce in November. Israel believes 99 hostages remain alive and that 31 have died.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the United Nations agency had delivered some medical supplies and fuel to two hospitals in northern Gaza on Saturday.

But he added that “we need sustained, safe access to health facilities in order to supply them with urgently needed lifesaving healthcare on a regular basis,” and called for a ceasefire.

The UN has reported particular difficulty in accessing northern Gaza.

The territory’s health ministry said at least 23 children have died from malnutrition and dehydration.

In the southern Gaza city of Rafah, resident Mumen Ahmed told AFP a strike hit a packed car on Sunday morning, causing “a martyr and casualties”.

“We expected with the arrival of Ramadan that the war would end,” said Ahmed, displaced from Gaza City.

“Enough of this war!”

– ‘Close-quarter combat’ –

With Ramadan approaching there was no letup in fighting and bombardment in Gaza, with 85 killed in 24 hours, according to the health ministry.

The Israeli military said its troops had killed 13 militants in air strikes and with tank and sniper fire in central Gaza over the past day.

Troops were also engaged in “close-quarter combat” in the southern city of Khan Yunis, where strikes had killed 17 militants.

The army reported the death of one more soldier in Gaza, bringing to 249 the number who have died there since ground operations began in late October. It says it has killed more than 10,000 militants.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said Israel was preparing for “all possible operational scenarios” during Ramadan.

He said, “Hamas is preventing a deal and is acting against what was raised by the mediators.”

Qatar-based Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh called for the speedy distribution of aid and the full opening of border crossings “to end the siege of our people”.

Biden last Thursday announced that the US military would build a temporary pier on Gaza’s coast to facilitate larger aid shipments by sea, but this would take about 60 days, according to the Pentagon.

The United States Central Command said a ship had left Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia on Saturday carrying the “first equipment to establish a temporary pier” to receive aid off Gaza.

AFP

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