6 June 2024

Palestinian Territories – Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Tuesday a truce agreement with Israel was in sight, raising hopes that dozens of people taken hostage in the October 7 attacks could be released.

There was no immediate response from Israel on the status of negotiation efforts to secure the release of the estimated 240 hostages seized during Hamas’s horrific assault.

The majority of the hostages are Israeli civilians, some of them young children and elderly people. Only a handful have been released, freed by Israeli troops or their bodies recovered.

“We are close to reaching a deal on a truce,” Haniyeh said, according to a statement sent by his office to AFP. Hamas gunmen killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, during cross-border raids on October 7 — the deadliest attack in Israel’s history.

In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. According to the Hamas government, the war has killed more than 13,300 people, thousands of them children.

Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, sources from Hamas and Islamic Jihad — which also participated in the attacks — confirmed that their groups had agreed to the terms of a truce deal.

The tentative deal includes a five-day truce, comprised of a ceasefire on the ground and limits to Israeli air operations over southern Gaza. Under the agreement, between 50 and 100 Israeli civilian and foreign hostages would be released, but no military personnel.

In exchange, some 300 Palestinians would be released from Israeli jails, among them women and children.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden had said he believed a deal was close, as hopes grew for talks brokered by Qatar, where Hamas has a political office and which has behind-the-scenes diplomatic links with Israel.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday that its president had travelled to Qatar to meet Hamas’s Haniyeh.

– ‘We will not stop fighting’ –

An agreement could bring some respite for Gazans who have lived for more than six weeks under Israel bombardment and an expanding ground offensive.

Large parts of Gaza have been destroyed by air strikes that have numbered in the thousands, and the territory is under siege, with minimal food, water and fuel allowed to enter.

According to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad sources, the deal would also allow for up to 300 trucks of food and medical aid to enter Gaza.

Israel has been wary of allowing fuel into the strip for fear it could be used by Hamas in rockets or for other paramilitary means.

Israel has vowed to press ahead with its offensive, pledging to crush Hamas and ensure the hostages are released.

“We will not stop fighting until we bring our hostages home,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared after meeting relatives of those abducted.

– Premature babies –

In Gaza, medics and patients were again caught on the front line on Tuesday, as Israel expanded its operation across the north of the territory.

Officials in the Hamas-run health ministry said Israel struck the Indonesian Hospital on Monday, killing 12 people, before moving in ground forces.

“The Israeli army is laying siege to the Indonesian Hospital,” ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP.

The Hamas government said dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles were deployed around the outskirts of the hospital and were firing towards the facility.

“We fear the same thing will happen there as it did in Al-Shifa,” Qudra added, referring to Gaza’s largest hospital which has been besieged and scoured by Israeli troops.

Twenty-eight premature babies were evacuated from Al-Shifa to Egypt on Monday.

The Indonesian Hospital sits on the fringe of Gaza’s largest refugee camp Jabalia, which has become a new focus for the war and has been the scene of intense Israeli bombing in recent days.

The health ministry official said there still were about 400 patients inside the hospital, as well as 2,000 people seeking shelter.

Around 200 people were evacuated from the hospital on Monday and bussed to the relative safety of a hospital in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.

At the Al-Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, an AFP reporter witnessed bloodied children being carried into the facility and lying dazed on gurneys as chaos swirled around them.

“We miraculously got out,” said one man who said he escaped the Indonesian Hospital. “We still have brothers there. I just can’t…” he said, his voice trailing off.

– ‘Scenes of death’ –

Israel says Hamas uses medical facilities to hide fighters and as the base for operations, making them legitimate military objectives — while insisting it does everything possible to limit harm to civilians.

But international criticism of Israel’s conduct of the war has grown in recent weeks, with protests erupting across the world, international agencies laying allegations of war crimes, and some governments breaking diplomatic ties.

The World Health Organization said it was “appalled” by Monday’s strike on the Indonesian Hospital and reported it was just one of 164 documented attacks on health facilities and workers since the war began.

“The world cannot stand silent while these hospitals, which should be safe havens, are transformed into scenes of death, devastation, and despair,” the organisation said in a statement.

The Indonesian Hospital was opened almost a decade ago, and was funded by donations from Indonesia — the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on Monday “strongly condemned the Israeli attack” on the hospital, adding that the ministry had not been able to contact three Indonesian volunteers believed to have been working at the facility.

Agence France-Presse