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Netanyahu remarks complicate cease-fire negotiations, critics say

Israel launched a new military offensive in Gaza City on Monday, forcing thousands of Palestinians to flee in what residents described as one of the worst bombardments in the heart of the war-ravaged northern city since the start of the war.

The raid comes as Israeli negotiators land in Egypt for a new round of ceasefire talks aimed at ending the nine-month war with Hamas, a conflict that has devastated the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military said intelligence indicated the presence of Hamas “terrorist infrastructure, operatives, weapons and investigation and detention rooms” in some areas of the city, including the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provides assistance to Palestinian refugees.

Residents and civil protection workers described chaos as tanks rolled into neighborhoods where some families had just arrived after following evacuation orders in other parts of the city.

“The extent of the fear and terror is indescribable,” said Zahia Odeh, 59, who fled her home in the Tuffah neighborhood two days ago. But she said she was considering returning. “The sound of the bombs is very loud,” she said, describing conditions in the house where she has taken refuge with 45 others south of Gaza City.

“Food and water are scarce. I don’t know how we can live in this situation. Every time we are ordered to evacuate, we don’t know where to go.”

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The vast majority of Gaza’s more than two million people are now displaced, many of them having been displaced multiple times. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people remain in Gaza City and the northern part of the enclave, where the humanitarian situation is most dire.

“Last night was extremely difficult,” said Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for the civil defense. “Most people spent the night in the streets and on the roads, sleeping in unsuitable areas, in fear, terror and missiles.”

He said rescuers were unable to reach bodies trapped under the rubble. Many people had been displaced the day before, he said, adding that Israeli operations had expanded on Monday, with tanks visible in the area of ​​UNRWA headquarters.

Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for UNRWA, said she had no information about the activities of the headquarters, which agency staff evacuated in October. It has since been used by displaced Palestinians seeking shelter, as well as by the Israeli military as a base of operations, she said.

“We are on the streets now because we have nowhere to go,” said Reem, a 38-year-old resident of Rimal neighborhood, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons. She said she fled with her family Monday afternoon after receiving a call asking them to move south. But when they left the area, it was already under intense shelling, she said.

“We didn’t have any streets or safe areas to move around,” Reem said, describing the walls she had to climb to try to get out of the way of the gunfire. “They were shooting at anything that moved,” she added.

The new evacuation zone includes buildings used as temporary housing for people displaced following a June 27 order for people to leave eastern Gaza City, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The new operation comes at a crucial moment in the ceasefire negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sowed fresh uncertainty in the talks on Sunday night, insisting that Israel should be able to resume fighting under any deal agreed to by negotiators.

His statement appeared to raise the bar for what Israel would accept in a deal and further dampened any lingering expectations of imminent peace.

Netanyahu made clear that “any agreement will allow Israel to resume fighting until all the objectives of the war are achieved.” A statement released by his office suggested that the prime minister would not be willing to fully commit to a permanent ceasefire until Hamas is completely eliminated from Gaza – a goal he has repeatedly described as a key objective of the war, alongside freeing the hostages and ensuring Israel’s security.

Netanyahu’s office also said any deal should prevent the smuggling of weapons from Egypt into Gaza and “maximize the number of live hostages” released by Hamas – rather than the return of all hostages.

The statement was criticized by Israeli political opponents of Mr. Netanyahu as well as protesters campaigning for a deal to free the hostages. On Sunday, opposition leader Yair Lapid condemned Mr. Netanyahu’s statement as a “provocative message,” while protesters in Tel Aviv accused the Israeli prime minister of obstructing peace negotiations with the new conditions.

“With his irresponsible statement, Netanyahu has proven once again that he was the one who obstructed (the deal),” said Einav Zangauker, the mother of one of the hostages, who hung herself in a cage above the demonstration in Tel Aviv in protest.

Thousands of Israelis rallied in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on July 7 to demand the resignation of members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. (Video: Reuters)

The statement comes as the United States, Egypt and Qatar continue their efforts to reach a ceasefire and a deal to release the hostages. In May, President Biden outlined a three-phase plan that includes an initial six-week phase with a ceasefire and increased humanitarian aid, which forms the basis of the current round of negotiations.

CIA Director William J. Burns, a key U.S. participant in previous cease-fire negotiations, is returning to the Middle East this week as the Biden administration seeks to advance the process, according to a Middle East government official familiar with the deals.

Burns will arrive in Cairo on Tuesday and travel to Qatar on Wednesday to meet with Israeli, Qatari and Egyptian officials and their intelligence counterparts, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations. The CIA declined to comment on Burns’ trip.

On Monday, Israeli media reported that an Israeli delegation led by intelligence chief Ronen Bar would continue negotiations in Egypt.

Last week, Israel and Hamas resumed indirect negotiations in Doha, Qatar, sparking mixed optimism after weeks of back-and-forth. One of the new sticking points, according to a source familiar with the negotiations, is the transition from the first to the second phase of the proposed framework agreement.

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Israeli forces said they struck several Hezbollah military targets in southern Lebanon. In a statement released Monday, the Israel Defense Forces said its warplanes struck a weapons depot and other targets in Lebanese territory and fired artillery to “eliminate a threat” in other parts of the south of the country.

Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, the outgoing head of the IDF’s Central Command, lambasted settler leaders for their failure to thwart attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank.Fox said nationalist crimes have increased in recent months and that “the coverage of the war and the desire for revenge” have “sown chaos and fear among Palestinian residents who posed no threat.”

Netanyahu ‘puts more obstacles in the way of negotiations’ and intensified its attempts “to forcibly displace (our people) in order to thwart all efforts to reach an agreement,” Hamas said in a statement on Telegram.

At least 38,193 people have been killed and 87,903 injured in Gaza since the start of the war, According to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says the majority of the dead are women and children. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in the October 7 Hamas attack, including more than 300 soldiers, and says that 323 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operations in Gaza.

News Source : www.washingtonpost.com
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