• Israeli strikes kill 83 people in Khan Yunis
• 47 bodies of Palestinians returned

CAIRO: Hamas said its delegation had left Cairo on Thursday amid ongoing negotiations on a ceasefire accord in Gaza that mediators hope to achieve before Ramazan early next week.

After four days of talks mediated by Qatar and Egypt to secure a 40-day ceasefire ahead of the fasting month there is still no sign of progress on key sticking points, with both sides blaming the other.

“Hamas’s delegation left Cairo this morning for consultation with the leadership of the movement, with negotiations and efforts continuing to stop the aggression, return the displaced and bring in relief aid to our people,” a Hamas statement said.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said Israel had been “thwarting” efforts to conclude a ceasefire deal. He said that Israel was rejecting Hamas’s demands to end its offensive in the enclave, withdraw its forces, and ensure freedom of entry for aid and the return of displaced people.

Health officials in Gaza said the number of people confirmed killed in Israel’s offensive had now passed 30,800. It reported 83 deaths in the past 24 hours and witnesses said the Israeli bombardments continued in Khan Younis, the southern city of Rafah, and areas in central Gaza.

Despair

Hamas officials have said a ceasefire must be in place before the prisoners are freed, Israeli forces must leave Gaza and all Gazans must be able to return to homes they have fled.

Hamas has said it can’t provide a list of the prisoners who are still alive without a ceasefire as they are scattered across the war zone. News that the Hamas delegation had left Cairo without an accord was met with despair in Gaza, which is in the grip of a deep humanitarian crisis after five months of war.

“I feel great disappointment and despair, fear too,” said Abir, who along with her 12-member family has taken refuge in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where more than half of the enclave’s 2.3 million people are now sheltering.

“America must apply pressure for an end to the war or a long-term truce and allow in lots of aid to all residents,” Abir said via a chat app. The US Central Command and Royal Jordanian Air Force continued on Thursday with joint efforts to get food and other aid to the north of the enclave, where UN aid agencies say a large proportion of the population is on the brink of famine.

Mass grave

Hamas officials said Israel on Thursday had returned 47 bodies of Palestinians it had killed earlier during its offensive, through its crossing with the enclave in the southern Gaza

Strip. Images showed bodies in blue bags lined up for burial in a shallow mass grave.

“They bring them to us, the martyrs (are) just numbered — it is not known who they are, and that is all,” said Ayman Abu Hatab, a worker in the morgue of Abu Yousef Al-Najjar hospital.

In a separate statement on Thursday, Hamas reiterated a call for Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem and inside Israel to step up visits to the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramazan to increase pressure on Israel to “agree to demands for a ceasefire”.

Negotiators are pushing for an accord ahead of Ramazan partly due to concerns that the mosque complex in Jerusalem, might become a flashpoint for violence during the fasting month.

Israel has said it will allow a similar level of access to the site as in previous years, without providing figures.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2024



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