Sun. May 19th, 2024

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A Hamas official has told Sky News he “does not know” how many Israeli hostages are still alive.

Dr Basem Naim, Hamas’s head of political and international relations, told Sky News: “I have no idea because it is impossible under this heavy bombardment – the communications are totally cut.”

Israel-Gaza latest: Hospital power running out ‘within 24 hours’

He also said the ruling Palestinian militant group in Gaza was ready to release civilian hostages when “aggression against our people is stopped”.

“At the time the aggression stops, we are ready to release the civilian hostages,” he said.

“I hope that we will have hostages alive at the time the aggression ends because al Qassam Brigade [Hamas’s armed wing] announced yesterday that nine of the hostages were killed under Israeli bombardment.

“And three days ago 13 others were killed – including four foreigners.”

It comes as Khaled Meshaal, head of Hamas’ diaspora office, called for 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israel to be freed in return for the hostages in Gaza.

He added that the captives include high-ranking officers from the Israeli Defence Forces’ Gaza Division, which is responsible for patrolling around the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military said on Monday that 199 hostages were being held in Gaza – a higher figure than previously estimated.

It comes as Sky News has been told that Israel has carried out a strike near the Rafah border crossing from Gaza into Egypt.

Smoke billows from buildings in Rafah after Israel airstrikes. Pic: AP
Image:
Smoke billows from buildings in the city of Rafah, near the border with Egypt, after Israel airstrikes. Pic: AP

Negotiations to open the crossing to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip – and foreign nationals out – appear to have stalled.

The crossing had been expected to open at 9am local time on Monday.

However, a United Nations spokesperson said there had been no progress on a full opening of the border.

Egypt, meanwhile, accused Israel of not cooperating with the delivery of aid into Gaza via the Rafah crossing, leaving hundreds of tonnes of supplies stuck in the nearby city of Al Arish.

Cairo said on Monday that the border was not officially closed, but instead had been made inoperable due to Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza side.

Palestinians wait to cross to the Egyptian side at Rafah border, Gaza Strip
Pic:AP
Image:
Palestinians wait to cross to the Egyptian side at Rafah border, Gaza Strip
Pic:AP

In other key developments:
• Hamas denies Israel’s claim it had resumed water supplies to Gaza
• The head of Israel’s intelligence agency admits it failed to deter Hamas’s attack
• US secretary of state Antony Blinken returns to Israel after six-country tour
• The UN warns fuel at all hospitals across Gaza Strip is running out
• The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said it killed a Hamas commander in an airstrike
• Rishi Sunak says six Britons were killed in Hamas raid on Israel and 10 others are missing
• He also pledged an extra £10m in aid to help Palestinian civilians

On Monday, a spokesperson for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said getting humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip was “not our responsibility at this time”.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told Sky News: “Frankly, while the images are extremely concerning, it isn’t our responsibility at this time.

“Indeed, we are focused on striking Hamas and striking their capabilities.

“We can’t be expected not to defend our civilians because Hamas is hiding behind theirs.”

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Gallant: ‘The people of Israel must win’

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He said the IDF was engaging with humanitarian agencies in the region, but said that the Israeli military was not present in the Gaza Strip to provide aid.

“In the area we have asked them [people in Gaza] to move to and move from – there is no Israeli presence – we cannot provide them with aid,” he said.

It comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to deter Hezbollah from joining the fight, telling the militant group “do not test us” in the north of the country – after 28 towns were evacuated near the border with Lebanon.

The evacuations in northern Israel followed a spike in clashes between the country’s military and Hezbollah – a Lebanese militant group backed by Tehran – since Hamas’s surprise incursion in Israel on 7 October.

Speaking in parliament – which had to be briefly evacuated on Monday after air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem – Mr Netanyahu also called for the world to unite to defeat Hamas.

“This war is also your war,” he said, as he compared the Hamas gunmen to the Nazis.

Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, also vowed: “We are going to win this war,” in a short news conference with US secretary of state Antony Blinken on Monday.

“You know our deep commitment to Israel’s right, and indeed its obligation, to defend itself and to defend its people – in that you have, and always, the support of the United States,” Mr Blinken replied.

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Israel is expected to invade Gaza in the coming days in a mission to wipe out Hamas, which governs the besieged Palestinian territory.

Earlier, in a speech to his cabinet, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority in the occupied territory of the West Bank, Mohammad Shtayyeh, urged Mr Netanyahu to “stop the aggression”.

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Trucks on ‘standby’ at Rafah border

US President Joe Biden also said in an interview that Hamas should be eliminated, but warned it would be a mistake for Israel to occupy Gaza, calling instead for a “two-state solution”.

In Israel, more than 1,400 people have been killed since Hamas carried out its attack on Israel on 7 October.

A Hamas government spokesperson said 2,808 Palestinians had been killed and another 10,850 wounded in retaliatory attacks by Israel.

At least 1,000 people are missing and believed to be under rubble, according to the Palestinian civil defence team.

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