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Hamas weighs Gaza truce as deadly Israeli offensive nears fifth month

By AFP - Feb 05,2024 - Last updated at Feb 05,2024

A woman reacts as she salvages belongings from the rubble of a destroyed house following Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday (AFP photo)

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories — Israeli strikes across Gaza killed scores overnight as battles raged on Sunday in the besieged territory's south and Hamas was reviewing a proposal for a halt in the nearly four-month-long war.

France's top diplomat Stephane Sejourne began his first Middle East trip as foreign minister, aimed at pushing for a ceasefire and hostage release, a ministry spokesman said, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also expected in the region in the coming days.

The health ministry in the territory said overnight Israeli strikes had killed at least 92 people.

An AFP journalist reported strikes and tank fire on Khan Yunis, southern Gaza's main city, with some air raids also hitting further south in Rafah, a border city teeming with Palestinians displaced by the fighting since early October.

Israel has warned its ground forces could advance on Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge from the fighting shelter in makeshift encampments.

With the war set to enter a fifth month on Wednesday, international mediators were pressing to seal a proposed truce deal thrashed out in a Paris meeting of top US, Israeli, Egyptian and Qatari officials.

But a top Hamas official in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, said on Saturday that the proposed framework was missing some details.

The group needed more time to “announce our position”, Hamdan said, “based on... our desire to put an end as quickly as possible to the aggression that our people suffer”.

A Hamas source had said the proposal involves an initial six-week pause that would see more aid delivered into the Gaza Strip and exchanges of some Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

Vowing to eliminate Hamas, Israel launched a massive military offensive that has killed at least 27,365 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry.

Rafah, once home to 200,000 people, now hosts more than half of Gaza’s population, the United Nations said.

“We are exhausted,” said displaced Gazan Mahmud Abu Al Shaar, urging “a ceasefire so that we can return to our homes”.

Experts and rights groups told AFP that Israeli forces have systematically destroyed buildings near the border in an attempt to create a buffer zone inside the Palestinian territory.

Israel has not publicly confirmed the plan, which Nadia Hardman, a refugee rights expert at Human Rights Watch, said “may amount to a war crime”.

“We are seeing mounting evidence that Israel appears to be rendering large parts of Gaza unlivable,” she said.

Adi Ben Nun, a professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University who has carried out an analysis of satellite imagery, said more than 30 per cent of structures inside Gaza with a kilometre of the Israeli border have been damaged or destroyed during the war.

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