Israel-Hamas war, day 161: Benjamin Netanyahu approved “the plans” of the Israeli army for an offensive in Rafah

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the army's "action plans" for an offensive in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, according to a statement sent to the press on Friday March 15

Israel-Hamas war, day 161: Benjamin Netanyahu approved “the plans” of the Israeli army for an offensive in Rafah

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the army's "action plans" for an offensive in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, according to a statement sent to the press on Friday March 15. “The Israeli army is ready for the operational side and for the evacuation of the population,” according to the press release which gives no further details on this long-announced operation.

Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to continue the war until the elimination of Hamas and has long promised this offensive against Rafah, a town on the closed border with Egypt where, according to the UN, around a million and a half are massed of Palestinians. The United States and the UN continue to warn against any offensive in Rafah endangering the civilians who are refugees there.

The United States, Qatar and Egypt, mediator countries, are still trying to reach an agreement on a truce between Hamas and Israel and an exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners.

Israeli delegation to Qatar to negotiate on hostages in Gaza

Israel will send a delegation to Doha, Qatar, as part of these negotiations, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in a statement on Friday, without specifying when this delegation will fly to Doha. Israel did not send representatives to a mediators meeting with a Hamas delegation last week in Cairo.

This announcement comes as Hamas appears to be changing its position. The Palestinian Islamist movement, which until now demanded a definitive ceasefire in Gaza before any agreement on the hostages, is now ready for a six-week truce, one of its managers.

As part of this truce, 42 hostages could be released in exchange for 20 to 50 Palestinian prisoners, depending on whether the hostages are civilians or military, and at the rate of one hostage per day, the official added under cover of anonymity. At the end of the truce, Hamas intends to demand the “complete withdrawal” of the Israeli army from the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli military operation has so far caused nearly 31,500 deaths, according to Hamas.

Twenty people killed in shooting during humanitarian aid distribution in Gaza

At least 20 people were killed and 155 injured overnight by gunfire at an aid distribution point in the northern Gaza Strip, the Hamas health ministry said Friday, blaming the Israeli army. to be at the origin of this attack. “Israeli occupying forces targeted a gathering of citizens awaiting humanitarian assistance,” the ministry said.

Present at the scene, journalist Mahmoud Essa, who filmed the evacuation of bloodied bodies, claims that "Israeli vehicles were stationed about 300 meters" from the roundabout in the south of Gaza City where several hundred people were standing. are gathered waiting for the humanitarian trucks to pass. “They opened fire using smoke shells and then live ammunition: intense fire, followed by shell fire,” says Mahmoud Essa, who says he also noted the presence of helicopters and small quadcopter drones who attacked the crowd.

For its part, the Israeli army denies having opened fire on Gazan civilians, and claims that “armed Palestinians” fired on the crowd. “No tank fire, no air strikes or no gunfire was carried out towards the Gazan civilians in the aid convoy,” it adds.

First boat loaded with supplies off Gaza City begins to be unloaded

A first boat loaded with food for the starving population arrived off the coast of Gaza City on Friday, as Palestinians gathered under tension for the first major prayer since the start of Ramadan. It began unloading its cargo of 200 tonnes of food on the coast of the Palestinian territory, the spokesperson for the NGO responsible for the operation told AFP.

World Central Kitchen is “unloading the barge that is now connected to the temporary jetty” built southwest of Gaza City, after being towed from Cyprus by another NGO’s ship, Linda Roth said.

Gaza hostages: Mediating countries working hard to “bridge the remaining gap,” says Antony Blinken

According to the US Secretary of State, the mediating countries are working "hard to bridge the remaining gap" towards an agreement on the hostages and on a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. “Yes, there is a counter-proposal that has been put forward by Hamas. Obviously I can't go into detail, but what I can tell you is that we are working hard with Israel, Qatar, Egypt, to bridge the remaining gap and try to reach an agreement “, Mr. Blinken said at a press conference in Vienna, Austria.

He said Israel had “sent negotiators back to continue the process.” “I think it reflects the sense of possibility and urgency to get an agreement, a ceasefire, to recover the hostages and to deliver even more humanitarian aid,” he added.

Olaf Scholz visits Jordan then Israel this weekend

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will visit Jordan and then Israel this weekend, his second visit to the region since the outbreak of war, his spokesperson announced. Mr. Scholz will meet King Abdullah II of Jordan on Saturday, before going to Israel on Sunday where talks with the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Head of State, Isaac Herzog, are planned, detailed Steffen Hebestreit during a press conference in Berlin.

“We remain steadfastly on Israel’s side, but we also clearly demand that all conditions of international law be respected,” he added. In Israel, the chancellor should once again “warn against an Israeli offensive at Rafah”, a border post with Egypt in the south of the enclave, and call for “an improvement in humanitarian supplies in the Gaza Strip », According to the spokesperson. The chancellor is also expected to reiterate his call for the release of Israeli hostages still in Hamas hands, a release that would “open the way to a truce.”