July 24th, 2024

Qatar announces deal to allow delivery of medicine to Israeli hostages, humanitarian aid to Gaza

By Najib Jobain, Samy Magdy And Melanie Lidman, The Associated Press on January 16, 2024.

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) – Qatar says it has mediated a deal between Israel and Hamas to allow the delivery of medication to the more than 100 Israeli hostages held captive in Gaza.

The Gulf Arab country announced Tuesday that additional quantities of humanitarian aid would be delivered to Palestinians in Gaza as part of the deal.

It marked the first agreement between the warring sides since a weeklong cease-fire collapsed in late November.

Hamas captured the hostages in its Oct. 7 cross-border attack that began the war. The hostages have not been visited by the Red Cross, and many, including several elderly men, are believed to be in desperate need of medication.

Qatar said the deal was reached with French assistance. The medicines are expected to be delivered Wednesday.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) – Palestinian militants battled Israeli forces in devastated northern Gaza and launched a barrage of rockets from farther south on Tuesday in a show of force more that 100 days into Israel’s massive air and ground campaign against the tiny coastal enclave.

The fighting in the north, which was the first target of Israel’s offensive and where entire neighborhoods have been pulverized, showed how far Israel remains from achieving its goals of dismantling Hamas and returning scores of hostages captured in the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war.

Meanwhile, Gaza’s humanitarian crisis is worsening, with 85% of the territory’s 2.3 million Palestinians having fled their homes and U.N. agencies warning of mass starvation and disease. The conflict threatens to widen after the U.S. and Israel traded strikes with Iranian-backed groups across the region.

Israel has vowed to crush Hamas’ military and governing capabilities to ensure that the Oct. 7 attack is never repeated. Militants stormed into Israel from Gaza that day, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and capturing around 250 people. With strong diplomatic and military support from the United States, Israel has resisted international calls for a cease-fire.

Nearly half of the hostages were released during a weeklong truce in November, but more than 100 remain in captivity. Hamas has said it will not release any others until Israel ends the war.

STRIKES AND COUNTERSTRIKES ACROSS THE REGION

The longer the war goes on, the more it threatens to ignite other fronts across the region.

Iran fired missiles late Monday at what it said were Israeli “spy headquarters” in an upscale neighborhood near the sprawling U.S. Consulate in Irbil, the seat of Iraq’s northern semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Iraq and the U.S. condemned the strikes, which killed several civilians, and Baghdad recalled its ambassador to Iran in protest.

Iranian-backed groups in Iraq and Syria have carried out dozens of attacks on bases housing U.S. forces, and a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad killed an Iranian-backed militia leader earlier this month.

Elsewhere, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have resumed their attacks on container ships in the Red Sea following a wave of U.S.-led strikes last week. The U.S. carried out another strike Tuesday, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity because the operation had not been made public.

The U.S. military said earlier in the day that two Navy SEALS are missing after a raid last week on a ship carrying Iranian-made missile parts and weapons bound for Yemen.

Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group have exchanged fire along the border nearly every day since the war in Gaza began. The strikes and counterstrikes have grown more severe since an Israeli strike killed Hamas’ deputy political leader in Beirut this month, raising fears of a repeat of the 2006 war.

MILITANTS KEEP FIGHTING IN GAZA’S HARD-HIT NORTH

In Gaza, the Israeli military said its forces located some 100 rocket installations and 60 ready-to-use rockets in the area of Beit Lahiya, a town on the territory’s northern edge. Israeli forces killed dozens of militants during the operation, the military said, without providing evidence.

Mahmoud Abdel-Ghani, who lives in Beit Lahiya, said Israeli airstrikes hit several buildings on the eastern side of the town.

Hundreds of thousands of people fled northern Gaza, including Gaza City, following Israeli evacuation orders in October. Israel shut off water to the region in the opening days of the war, and hardly any aid has been allowed into the north, even as tens of thousands of people have remained there.

Residents reached by phone Tuesday described the heaviest fighting in weeks in Gaza City.

“The bombing never stopped,” said Faris Abu Abbas, who lives in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood. “The resistance is here and didn’t leave.”

Ayoub Saad, who lives near Shifa Hospital downtown, said he heard gunfire and shelling overnight and into Tuesday and saw dead and wounded people being brought to the hospital on carts.

After weeks of heavy fighting across northern Gaza, Israeli officials said at the start of the year that they were scaling back operations there. The focus shifted to the southern city of Khan Younis and built-up refugee camps in central Gaza dating back to the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.

But there too, they have encountered heavy resistance. The military said at least 25 rockets were fired into Israel on Tuesday, damaging a store in one of the strongest bombardments in more than a week. Israel’s Channel 12 television said the rockets were launched from the Bureij camp in central Gaza.

A SPIRALING HUMANITARIAN CRISIS

Gaza’s Health Ministry said Tuesday that the bodies of 158 people killed in Israeli strikes have been brought to hospitals in the past 24 hours, bringing the war’s overall death toll to 24,285. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths but says around two-thirds of those killed were women and children.

Senior U.N. officials warned Monday that Gaza faces widespread famine and disease if more aid is not allowed in. While they did not directly blame Israel, they said aid delivery is hobbled by the opening of too few border crossings, a slow vetting process, and continuing fighting throughout the territory – all of which is largely under Israel’s control.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said U.N. agencies and their partners “cannot effectively deliver humanitarian aid while Gaza is under such heavy, widespread and unrelenting bombardment.” At least 152 U.N. staffers have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war.

Israeli officials say they have placed no limits on humanitarian aid and have called on the U.N. to provide more workers and trucks to accelerate delivery.

Israel completely sealed off Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and only relented under U.S. pressure. The U.S., as well as the U.N., have continued to push Israel to ease the flow of aid.

Israel blames the high civilian death toll on Hamas because it fights in dense residential areas. Israel says its forces have killed roughly 8,000 militants, without providing evidence, and that 190 of its own soldiers have been killed in the Gaza offensive.

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Magdy reported from Cairo. Lidman reported from Tel Aviv, Israel. Associated Press Writer Jon Gambrell in Jerusalem, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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Find more of AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

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