Middle East: Israel to return to talks on cease-fire

Netanyahu announcement marks latest effort for a Gaza Strip deal as war with Hamas grinds on.

By The Associated Press

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will return to the table for cease-fire talks with Hamas.

Friday’s announcement marks yet another attempt to reach a deal to pause Israel’s devastating war in Gaza against Hamas in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages. Efforts by the United States, Qatar and Egypt to negotiate a cease-fire appear stalled as the war grinds through its sixth month.

Hamas has previously suggested a phased release of all remaining hostages in return for an end to the war and full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the opening of its borders for aid and reconstruction, and the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including top militants serving life sentences.

Netanyahu has called these conditions delusional, and says that after any hostage release, Israel will keep fighting until Hamas is destroyed.

Hamas is believed to be holding roughly 100 hostages, as well as the remains of about 30 people killed in the group’s Oct. 7 attack or who died in captivity. Some 1,200 people were killed in Israel during the surprise attack, which triggered the current conflict. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel and the U.S.

Israel’s war in Gaza has killed more than 32,000 people and wounded 74,000, according to the territory’s Health Ministry. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its tally, but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

The U.N. has reported that 100% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are at severe levels of food insecurity. Aid deliveries have been impeded by Israeli military restrictions, ongoing hostilities and the breakdown of public order, according to the U.N. and international aid groups.

Violence at protest

Israeli police have violently dispersed a small group of anti-war protesters in Jerusalem.

Friday’s gathering of about 50 demonstrators holding signs calling for a cease-fire quickly devolved into scuffles between demonstrators and officers as police attempted to wrestle megaphones and posters out of demonstrators’ grasp.

Amateur video showed police punching at least one protester in his side while kneeling on his legs.

Officers arrested five people, including a journalist, the police said. It said protesters had not registered the gathering with the authorities and had ignored calls to disband.

Since the war in Gaza began, tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to demand the return of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, as well as for the ouster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Smaller Israeli protests calling the Israeli campaign in Gaza a genocide of Palestinians have been met with a forceful police response.

Rafah strike kills 12

An Israeli airstrike killed at least 12 people when it slammed into a residential building late Thursday in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which is overflowing with displaced civilians, according to health officials.

Two children and four women were among the dead pulled from the rubble, said Dr. Saleh al-Hams, the head of the nursing department at the European Hospital.

Eight of the bodies, including two mangled and unidentifiable corpses, were transferred to the European Hospital. The rest of the remains were taken to Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital, according to hospital records. After almost six months of war, about a dozen of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are only partially functioning.

Israel has promised to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, saying the city on the border with Egypt is the last remaining Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces have continued to bombard areas where they told civilians to take shelter — including Rafah.

Over half of Gaza’s population has sought refuge in Rafah, many in makeshift tent camps, United Nations shelters and crowded apartments. The U.S. says it shares Israel’s goal of defeating Hamas but a major assault on the city would be a mistake.

UN orders crossings

In a legally binding order, the top United Nations court says Israel must open more land crossings into Gaza for food, water, fuel and other supplies.

The International Court of Justice issued two new so-called provisional measures Thursday in a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of acts of genocide in its war in Gaza —

charges Israel strongly denies.

The U.N. has reported that 100% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are at severe levels of food insecurity.

Aid deliveries have been impeded by Israeli military restrictions, ongoing hostilities and the breakdown of public order, according to the U.N. and international aid groups.

And in the West Bank, Israeli authorities say an attacker wounded three people Thursday after opening fire at several vehicles on a main route in the territory. The military says it’s still searching for the shooter.

Tensions in the West Bank have surged since the start of the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 32,000 people and wounded 74,000, according to the Gaza’s Health Ministry. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its tally, but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

Some 1,200 people were killed in Israel and another 250 people abducted when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, triggering the war in Gaza.

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