Israel-Hamas war, day 150: call for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, Israel accuses UNRWA of employing “more than 450 terrorists”… What you need to know

Negotiations for a truce between Israel and Hamas resumed on Monday, March 4, in Cairo, the day after a call from the United States for an “immediate ceasefire” in the Gaza Strip, besieged and threatened with famine after almost five months of war

Israel-Hamas war, day 150: call for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, Israel accuses UNRWA of employing “more than 450 terrorists”… What you need to know

Negotiations for a truce between Israel and Hamas resumed on Monday, March 4, in Cairo, the day after a call from the United States for an “immediate ceasefire” in the Gaza Strip, besieged and threatened with famine after almost five months of war. Israeli bombings continue without respite on the Palestinian territory, where 124 people have been killed in twenty-four hours, according to the Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip, administered by Hamas. On Monday, Israeli bombings mainly targeted Rafah and Khan Younes in the south, Nusseirat in the center, Jabaliya and Gaza City in the north, according to the Hamas government and witnesses. The Israeli army said its soldiers were seeking to surround the western part of Khan Yunis, where “terrorists on the run are hiding.”

A Hamas delegation is also in Cairo, but Israel is not participating in the talks. The mediating countries have been trying for weeks to extract a compromise from the two camps in order to obtain a truce agreement which would allow, among other things, the release of hostages held in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Before any agreement, Hamas demands a definitive ceasefire, an increase in humanitarian aid entering the Gaza Strip, a return to the north of hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians and an Israeli military withdrawal from the territory. Israel rejects these conditions, saying it wants to continue its offensive until the elimination of Hamas. He also demands that the Islamist movement provide a list of hostages held in Gaza.

To achieve "total victory" against Hamas, Israel announced that it was preparing a ground offensive on Rafah, a town located in the far south of the Gaza Strip, against the closed border with Egypt, where there are massed, according to the UN, nearly 1.5 million Palestinians are in a desperate humanitarian situation. Famine is “almost inevitable,” according to the UN, for Gaza’s 2.2 million residents, the vast majority of the population. The war also caused the collapse of the health system and the lack of electricity threatens the functioning of the last hospitals still in service. “Electricity is a matter of life and death in hospitals,” said Hiba Tibi, director of the NGO Care in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military has accused the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) of employing “more than 450 terrorists” in Gaza. “According to intelligence services, more than 450 terrorists belonging to terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, mainly Hamas, are also employed by UNRWA,” the army said in a statement.

The Israeli military also released what it says is a recording of "a terrorist working as an Arabic teacher at an UNRWA school" that "describes his entry into Israeli territory and says he is holding hostages Israeli women” detained during the October 7 attack. Le Monde was unable to independently verify these accusations.

For its part, UNRWA accused Israel of “torture” against some of its arrested employees, according to a press release sent to Agence France-Presse (AFP). “Some of our employees reported to UNRWA teams that they had been forced to make confessions under torture and ill-treatment” while they were “questioned about relations between UNRWA and Hamas and about involvement in the October 7 attack on Israel,” the UN agency said.

An American envoy affirmed in Beirut that a diplomatic solution was “the only way out” to put an end to the cross-border clashes which have pitted the powerful Lebanese Hezbollah against Israel since the start of the war in Gaza. Amos Hochstein's visit comes as a missile fired, according to the Israeli army, from Lebanon killed a foreign farm worker in the north of the country. In retaliation, the army said it attacked two pro-Iranian Hezbollah “military sites” in southern Lebanon.

“The United States is convinced that a diplomatic solution is the only way to end hostilities (…),” Amos Hochstein, US President Joe Biden's special coordinator for energy security, told reporters. . The envoy met with the President of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, an ally of Hezbollah, and the Lebanese Prime Minister, Najib Mikati.

He assured that his country was “working tirelessly for a ceasefire in Gaza”, while adding that this would not “automatically” mean an end to violence on the Lebanese front. “That’s why we’re here today,” he said.

Belgium has sent a military plane loaded with humanitarian aid to be dropped over Gaza, as part of an international operation involving the United States, France and Jordan, Belgian officials announced AFP.

The humanitarian aid will first be transported to Jordan, where Israeli officials will inspect it, then it will be dropped over the Palestinian territory, no earlier than Wednesday, Colonel Bruno Beeckmans, commander of the Belgian air base at Melsbroek, near Brussels, from where the plane took off. “We don’t decide when we can go [to Gaza], we will be told when, and we will respect that,” he said.

Permission from Israeli authorities is necessary because Israel controls the airspace above the Gaza Strip. The Belgian military cargo plane, an Airbus A400M, will make another rotation between Brussels and Jordan to deliver more aid before the airdrop operation in Gaza, according to Belgian authorities. Jordan has already carried out sixteen humanitarian aid drop operations in Gaza since October 7, including one carried out by a French aircraft.

A team from the World Health Organization (WHO), which visited two hospitals in the northern Gaza Strip this weekend, described a "grim" situation, with ten children starving to death in one of the two establishments, says the head of the WHO.

The WHO team visited Kamal-Adwan hospitals in Beit Lahia and Al-Awda hospitals in Jabaliya. “This is the first visit since the beginning of October 2023, despite our efforts to have regular access to the northern Gaza Strip,” writes Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on visit are “sinister”, he continued, describing “a particularly terrible situation in Al-Awda, where one of the buildings was destroyed”.

Kamal-Adwan Hospital, the only pediatric hospital in the north of the Palestinian enclave, is “overflowing with patients.” “Lack of food led to the death of ten children,” he continues.

Hamas does not know "who is alive or dead" among the hostages held in the Gaza Strip since the Palestinian Islamist movement's bloody attack in southern Israel on October 7, one of its senior officials told the AFP.

“We do not know exactly who among them is alive or dead, killed by [Israeli] strikes or hunger,” assured Bassem Naïm from Cairo. “Prisoners are being held by many groups in different locations,” he added.

Around 250 people were kidnapped and taken to Gaza during Hamas' unprecedented Oct. 7 attack in Israel, which left 1,160 people dead, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally from official Israeli data. According to Israeli authorities, 130 hostages are still in Gaza, of whom thirty-one are believed to be dead. Around 100 others were released along with 240 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel during a truce in November.