Israel expands Gaza offensive as mediators’ ceasefire bid continues

Heavy Israeli air raids kill dozens in central Gaza as US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators plan to resume talks.

Deir el-Balah
The wife of Mohammed Abu Seif, who was killed in an Israeli attack, holds his hand as she sits between his body and the body of her son who was killed in the same strike in Deir el-Balah [Doaa Rouqa/Reuters]

Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in heavy Israeli bombardment of the central Gaza Strip, as US, Qatari, and Egyptian mediators plan to resume talks on a proposed ceasefire and captive release deal.

Urban combat and shelling rocked Gaza’s southern city of Rafah near the Egyptian border, as fighting also flared again in central areas, where the Israeli army said “troops have started targeted operational activity in the areas of Bureij and eastern Deir el-Balah, both above and below ground”.

A medical source told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that at least 75 people were killed by Israeli attacks on central Gaza over the past day. Sources also told Al Jazeera that the morgues in the central city of Deir el-Balah were full while the local Al-Aqsa Hospital was working at three times its capacity.

Deir el-Balah
A child carries another child injured in an Israeli attack in Deir el-Balah [File: Ramadan Abed/Reuters]

In a statement, the Israeli army said it struck “terror targets” in the area, killing “several” members of the Palestinian group Hamas.

Almost eight months into Israel’s war on Gaza, global outrage has spiralled over the soaring death toll – exceeding 36,500 – and the destruction in the besieged and bombarded territory, where United Nations data suggests more than half of all buildings are destroyed or damaged.

Three-phase plan

On May 31, US President Joe Biden outlined what he called a three-phase Israeli plan, proposing to halt the fighting for six weeks while Israeli captives held in Gaza are exchanged for Palestinian prisoners and aid is stepped up in the first phase.

Regional and international powers have backed the proposal, although sticking points remain – Hamas insists on a permanent ceasefire and full Israeli withdrawal, demands Israel has rejected.

Biden has urged Hamas to accept the deal and deployed CIA chief Bill Burns to mediator Qatar for a renewed push after months of back-and-forth negotiations.

A source with knowledge of the talks told the AFP news agency that Burns would “continue working with mediators on reaching an agreement between Hamas and Israel on a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of hostages”.

Brett McGurk, Biden’s top Middle East adviser, was also headed to Qatar, according to news site Axios, which quoted sources as talking of a “full-court press … to get a breakthrough”.

Egypt’s state-linked Al-Qahera News said an “Egyptian security delegation will meet with its Qatari and US counterparts in Doha on Wednesday to discuss the mechanism of restoring the truce talks”.

Qatar said on Tuesday it had yet to see statements from either side “that give us a lot of confidence”, but added that it was “working with both sides on proposals on the table”.

Biden earlier told Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani that “Hamas is now the only obstacle to a complete ceasefire”, and “confirmed Israel’s readiness to move forward” with the terms he set out last week.

A senior Hamas official in Beirut on Tuesday accused Israel of seeking “endless” truce negotiations and repeated the group’s position rejecting any deal that excludes a permanent ceasefire.

Sultan Barakat, a professor of public policy at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, said the situation remains “very confusing” days after the US president’s proposal.

“Biden has announced something that some Israelis say that he should not have announced, some say he announced it without our approval and there’s an opinion that maybe he’s announced it with Gantz’s approval as opposed to Netanyahu and Gallant, the other two members of the war cabinet,” Barakat told Al Jazeera.

“That shows that there may be a split within Israel as to which direction they can take,” he added.

Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7 have killed at least 36,586 people and wounded 83,074, with thousands more missing under the rubble and presumed dead, according to health authorities. Israel launched its assault on Gaza after a Hamas-led attack in southern Israel killed about 1,140 people.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies