Mossad and Qatar officials meet as Israel bombards Gaza

December 17, 2023 by AAP
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As Israel’s bombardment of Gaza continues, it is showing the first signs of coming to the negotiating table since the collapse of last month’s truce.

Mossad chief David Barnea at a ceremony marking Remembrance Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, May 3, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

The head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency has met Qatar’s prime minister in Europe, according to a source with knowledge of the matter, as attention turns to a possible new Gaza truce and a prisoner and hostage deal.

Israel bombarded targets across Gaza on Saturday, but two Egyptian security sources said Israeli officials now appeared more willing to work towards a ceasefire and an exchange of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

The meeting between David Barnea and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani late on Friday was apparently the first between senior officials from Israel and Qatar, which has been acting as a mediator, since the collapse of a seven-day ceasefire in late November.

In another sign of a possible breakthrough, Israeli media said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would convene his security cabinet and deliver a televised statement on Saturday evening local time. Netanyahu’s office did not immediately confirm that.

Combat has intensified in the past two weeks since the collapse of the truce that had allowed dozens of Israeli hostages held in Gaza to be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

Israeli forces bombarded targets across Gaza on Saturday with dozens of Palestinians reported killed or wounded, despite a renewed US call to scale down the campaign and focus on Hamas leaders.

In Khan Younis in Gaza’s south, Palestinian health officials said the Nasser Hospital had received 20 Palestinians killed in air strikes overnight, in addition to dozens of wounded, including women and children.

Palestinian health officials said Israeli strikes on Gaza City in the north had hit the YMCA headquarters, which is sheltering hundreds of displaced people and reported several dead and wounded.

The official WAFA news agency said at least three dozen people had been killed in strikes on three houses in the Jabalia refugee camp.

Also in northern Gaza, health officials said Israeli troops made hundreds of internally displaced persons taking refuge inside the Kamal Adwan hospital leave and evacuated wounded patients and medical staff to the hospital grounds.

The Israeli military said the hospital was being used as a Hamas “command and control centre” and that soldiers had detained around 80 militant fighters before leaving the site on Saturday.

President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, has urged Israel to scale down its Gaza campaign and transition to more narrowly targeted operations against Hamas leaders, US officials said.

Israeli officials publicly emphasised that they would continue the war until they eradicate Hamas.

An Israeli military official said three hostages killed mistakenly in Gaza by Israeli forces had been holding up a white flag, according to an initial inquiry.

The incident happened in an area of intense combat where Hamas militants operate in civilian attire and use deception tactics, the official said, but the hostages were fired upon against Israel’s rules of engagement.

Israel, which said it recovered the bodies of three other hostages killed by Hamas, believes around 20 of the more than 130 hostages still held in Gaza are dead.

The Israeli military said on Saturday it had bombed a Jabalia building after its forces came under fire and Hamas militants were seen on the roof. It was unclear if the building was one of those that WAFA said had been hit.

The military  said it had killed militants holed up in two school buildings in Gaza City, and raided apartments in Khan Younis stocked with weapons, uncovering what it described as underground infrastructure used by Hamas.

In a  cross-border attack on October 7, Hamas militants rampaged through Israeli towns, killing 1200 people and capturing 240 hostages. Israel’s counterattack has killed close to 19,000 people, according to Gaza health authorities, with thousands more feared buried under rubble.

In signs of the widening conflict, Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthis said they had attacked the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat with a swarm of drones, one of several drone incidents reported in the region on Saturday.

Major freight firms said they would avoid the Suez Canal as the Houthis stepped up attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

US and British warships have shot down several suspected attack drones targeting merchant shipping.

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