Qatar says Gaza truce proposal to be sent to Hamas as war rages on

Fears mounted of widening regional conflict after Washington vowed to respond to an attack that killed three US troops in Jordan

By AFP

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This handout picture released by the Israeli army on January 29, 2024, shows Israeli soldiers operating in Khan Yunis, in the southern the Gaza Strip, amid ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas. (Photo: AFP)
This handout picture released by the Israeli army on January 29, 2024, shows Israeli soldiers operating in Khan Yunis, in the southern the Gaza Strip, amid ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas. (Photo: AFP)

Published: Tue 30 Jan 2024, 9:17 AM

A framework to halt the Gaza fighting and for hostage releases is to be relayed to Hamas, mediator Qatar said Monday, as a bitter row flared around the UN aid agency for Palestinians.

While deadly fighting again rocked Gaza, fears mounted of a widening regional conflict after Israel's top ally Washington vowed to respond to an attack that killed three US troops in Jordan.

Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip killed 215 more people within 24 hours, including 20 members of one family, said the health ministry in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory.

Ground forces backed by tanks have focused on the main southern city of Khan Yunis, the hometown of Hamas's Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar.

Sinwar's office, military sites and "a significant rocket manufacturing facility" were raided by troops, the army said.

Since the war began, the Israeli military "eliminated over 2,000 terrorists above and below ground" in the Khan Yunis area, spokesman Daniel Hagari said Monday, without offering evidence.

With Gazans facing dire humanitarian conditions after nearly four months of war, 20 international aid organisations said they were "outraged" at the suspension of funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

At least 12 countries -- including top donors the United States and Germany -- have halted funds over Israeli claims that some UNRWA staff were involved in Hamas's October 7 attack that sparked the fighting.

A UNRWA source, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, told AFP it would be "a major disaster" if donors insist on stopping their support.

In the latest efforts to broker a new truce, CIA chief William Burns met top Israeli, Egyptian and Qatari officials in Paris on Sunday.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who attended the talks, said "good progress" had been made and the parties were "hoping to relay this proposal to Hamas and to get them to a place where they engage positively and constructively in the process".

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed hope for the deal.

"Very important, productive work has been done. And there is some real hope going forward," Blinken told reporters after the Paris talks.

The Qatari PM confirmed that the framework -- which he said might lead to a permanent ceasefire -- includes a phased truce that would see women and children hostages released first, with aid also entering besieged Gaza.

A senior Hamas official, Taher al-Nunu, said it wanted a "complete and comprehensive ceasefire, not a temporary truce", although it was not immediately clear if Hamas officials had received the text of the Qatari proposal.

Once the fighting stopped, Nunu told AFP, "the rest of the details can be discussed", including hostage releases.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has called the Paris talks "constructive" but pointed to "significant gaps which the parties will continue to discuss".

The war was sparked by a Hamas attack that resulted in about 1,140 deaths, mostly civilians, in southern Israel, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Militants also seized 250 hostages, of whom Israel says around 132 remain in Gaza, including the bodies of at least 28 dead captives.

Israel's relentless military offensive has killed at least 26,637 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the territory's health ministry.

Hundreds of thousands have been displaced in Gaza and rely on scarce aid, but there are fears of further shortages because of the rift between Israel and UNRWA.

The European Union and other donors have urged an investigation into the allegations against UNRWA staff.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has pleaded for continued financial support to meet "dire needs", will meet donors on Tuesday, his office said.

Guterres has already spoken with Washington's representative to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, as well as King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz cancelled a meeting with UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini, and said on social media: "Supporters of terrorism are not welcome here."

In the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where 1.5 million displaced people have taken refuge, some told AFP the UN support was a lifeline.

"We live on aid from UNRWA," said Sabah Musabih, 50. "If it stopped, we would die of hunger."

Israel and the United States have faced attacks from, and struck back at, multiple Iran-backed armed groups, with violence flaring in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen since the war began.

Washington said a Sunday drone attack on a remote base in Jordan that killed three US troops and wounded dozens more "requires a response".

But White House spokesman John Kirby insisted: "We are not looking for a war with Iran."

Tehran has denied any involvement in the attack.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Monday evening that soldiers stationed in Gaza were "moving towards the north, and preparing for what comes next", a reference to the Israeli-Lebanese border where there have been daily exchanges of fire with Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, a Hamas ally.

A war monitor said Israeli strikes in Syria killed eight people Monday, including pro-Iran fighters.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP three Israeli missiles "targeted a base belonging to Hezbollah and Iran's Revolutionary Guards", without specifying if any civilians were killed.

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