Israel faces new calls for truce after killing of hostages raises alarm about its conduct in Gaza
DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel’s government faced calls for a cease-fire from some of its closest European allies on Sunday after a series of shootings, including the mistaken killing of three Israeli hostages, fueled global concerns about the conduct of the 10-week-old war in Gaza.
Israeli protesters are urging their government to renew negotiations with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, whom Israel has vowed to destroy. Israel is also expected to face pressure to scale back major combat operations when United States (US) Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visits Monday. Washington is expressing growing unease with civilian casualties even as it provides vital military and diplomatic support.
The war has flattened large parts of northern Gaza, killed thousands of civilians and driven most of the population to the southern part of the besieged territory, where many are in crowded shelters and tent camps. Some 1.9 million Palestinians — about 90 per cent of Gaza’s population — have fled their homes.
They survive off a trickle of humanitarian aid. Dozens of desperate Palestinians surrounded aid trucks after they drove in through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, forcing some to stop before climbing aboard, pulling down boxes and carrying them off. Other trucks appeared to be guarded by masked people carrying sticks.
Israel said aid passed directly from Israel into Gaza for the first time Sunday, with 79 trucks entering from Kerem Shalom, where around 500 trucks entered daily before the war. Another 120 trucks entered via Rafah along with six trucks carrying fuel or cooking gas, said Wael Abu Omar, Palestinian Crossings Authority spokesman.
Aid workers say it’s still far from enough. “You cannot deliver aid under a sky full of airstrikes,” a spokesperson with the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Juliette Touma, said on social media, while the agency estimated that more than 60 per cent of Gaza’s infrastructure had been destroyed in the war.
Telecom services in Gaza gradually resumed after a four-day communications blackout, the longest of several outages during the war that groups say complicate rescue and delivery efforts.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel “will continue to fight until the end,” with the goal of eliminating Hamas, which triggered the war with its October 7 attack into southern Israel. Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people that day, mostly civilians, and captured scores of hostages.
Netanyahu vows to bring back the estimated 129 hostages still in captivity. Anger over the mistaken killing of hostages is likely to increase pressure on him to renew Qatar-mediated negotiations with Hamas over swapping more of the remaining captives for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.
In Israel on Sunday, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna called for an “immediate truce” aimed at releasing more hostages, getting larger amounts of aid into Gaza and moving toward “the beginning of a political solution.”
France’s Foreign Ministry earlier said an employee was killed in an Israeli strike on a home in Rafah on Wednesday. It condemned the strike, which it said killed several civilians, and demanded clarification from Israeli authorities.
The foreign ministers of the United Kingdom (UK) and Germany, meanwhile, called for a “sustainable” cease-fire, saying too many civilians had been killed.
“Israel will not win this war if its operations destroy the prospect of peaceful co-existence with Palestinians,” British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote in the UK’s Sunday Times.
The US defence secretary is set to travel to Israel to continue discussions on a timetable for ending the war’s most intense phase. Israeli and US officials have spoken of a transition to more targeted strikes aimed at killing Hamas leaders and rescuing hostages, without saying when it would occur.
Hamas has said no more hostages will be released until the war ends, and that in exchange it will demand the release of large numbers of Palestinian prisoners, including high-profile militants.
Hamas released over 100 of more than 240 hostages captured on October 7 in exchange for the release of scores of Palestinian prisoners during a brief cease-fire in November. Nearly all freed on both sides were women and minors. Israel has rescued one hostage.
The Israeli military said Sunday it had discovered a large tunnel in Gaza close to what was once a busy crossing into Israel, raising new questions about how Israeli surveillance missed such conspicuous attack preparations by Hamas.