Middle East crisis live: US unveils draft UN resolution for ceasefire; more than 140 militants killed at al-Shifa hospital, IDF says | Israel-Gaza war


US unveils draft UN resolution seeking immediate Gaza ceasefire

The US has circulated a draft UN security council resolution calling for an “immediate ceasefire linked to the release of hostages” in the Gaza Strip, secretary of state Antony Blinken said.

The diplomat made his announcement while on a tour of the Middle East that will include a stop in Israel, reports the news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Key Israel backer the US has vetoed previous UN security council votes on the nearly six-month war, objecting as recently as in February to the use of the term “immediate” in a draft submitted by Algeria.

In recent weeks, however, Washington has upped the pressure on its ally, while insisting that Hamas militants must immediately release the hostages seized by militants during its 7 October attacks on Israel.

“Well, in fact, we actually have a resolution that we put forward right now that’s before the UN security council that does call for an immediate ceasefire tied to the release of hostages, and we hope very much that countries will support that,” Blinken said in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan (R) meeting US secretary of state Antony Blinken in Jeddah, on Wednesday. Both are sat down in dark blue armchairs with their countries flags displayed on a table between them.
Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan (R) met US secretary of state Antony Blinken in Jeddah, on Wednesday. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/AFP/Getty Images

“I think that would send a strong message, a strong signal,” he told Saudi media outlet Al Hadath on Wednesday.

“Of course, we stand with Israel and its right to defend itself … but at the same time, it’s imperative that the civilians who are in harm’s way and who are suffering so terribly – that we focus on them, that we make them a priority, protecting the civilians, getting them humanitarian assistance,” Blinken said.

US officials had been negotiating an alternative text since blocking an Algerian draft resolution calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza at the end of February.

That alternative, focusing on support for a six-week truce in exchange for the release of hostages, had little chance winning approval, according to diplomatic sources.

A new version, seen by AFP, stresses “the need for an immediate and durable ceasefire to protect civilians on all sides, enable the delivery of essential humanitarian aid, and alleviate suffering … in conjunction with the release of hostages still held”. No vote has yet been scheduled on this text.

Blinken met Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and then held talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman soon after landing in the kingdom on Wednesday on the first leg of a regional tour that will include Egypt on Thursday and then Israel on Friday.

Key events

Satellite images show 35% of Gaza’s building destroyed, UN says

Satellite images analysed by the UN’s Satellite Centre (UNOSAT) show that 35% of the Gaza Strip’s buildings have been destroyed or damaged since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict, reports Reuters.

The United Nations Satellite Centre (UNOSAT) has released an updated assessment of the damage inflicted on buildings in the Gaza Strip.

35% of Gaza Strip Structures were damaged since the outburst of the conflict.

Read our latest press release: https://t.co/t33jLBJJ4Y pic.twitter.com/1lvR4Rw5Bz

— UNOSAT (@UNOSAT) March 21, 2024

In its assessment, UNOSAT used high-resolution satellite images collected on 29 February and compared them with images taken before and after the start of the latest conflict. It found that 35% of all buildings in the Gaza Strip – 88,868 structures – had been damaged or destroyed.

Among these, it identified 31,198 structures as destroyed, 16,908 as severely damaged, and 40,762 as moderately damaged.

This represents an increase of nearly 20,000 damaged structures compared to the previous assessment it did based on images taken in January that showed 30% of all buildings had been damaged or destroyed, UNOSAT said.

“The governorates of Khan Younis and Gaza have experienced the most significant rise in damage, with Khan Younis seeing 12,279 additional damaged structures and Gaza experiencing 2,010,” UNOSAT said. Khan Younis City has been hit “particularly hard”, it said, with 6,663 newly destroyed structures.

Officials from 36 countries and UN agencies gathered in Cyprus on Thursday to discuss how to expedite aid to Palestinians in Gaza via a sea route launched last week.

According to Reuters, Thursday’s gathering is being attended by Sigrid Kaag, the UN’s senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, as well as Curtis Ried, chief of staff of the US national security council.

As famine looms over Gaza, agencies are increasingly looking for alternative routes to get aid in other than land crossings. But lack of infrastructure is an issue; the World Central Kitchen which dispatched aid from Cyprus last week made a landing jetty out of rubble, while the US has also announced plans to create a floating pier.

Under an agreement hammered out with Israel, cargoes can undergo security inspections in Cyprus by a team including Israel, eliminating the need for screenings at its final offloading point to remove potential hold-ups in aid deliveries, reports Reuters.

Open Arms members carry humanitarian aid for Gaza in a joint mission between NGOs Open Arms and World Central Kitchen at the port of Larnaca, Cyprus. Photograph: Santi Palacios/Reuters

One vessel left Cyprus last week and distributed aid in Gaza, while another two are expected to depart in coming days, subject to weather conditions.

“We are discussing how we can max up operational capacity both in terms of departure and means of transport and also in relation to the reception and distribution methodology,” said Constantinos Kombos, Cyprus’s foreign minister.

Delegates would also discuss the creation of a fund to coordinate operational activities of the initiative, Kombos said, although he clarified it was not a donor’s conference, say Reuters.

Asked how many vessels could be departing Cyprus with aid once the initiative is at full operational capacity, Kombos said “as many as possible”.

“We have to remember there are limitations in terms of the reception and distribution and the whole point is not to just stockpile aid here but about a quick turnaround so we are as efficient as possible.”

EU leaders have gathered today in Brussels for a two-day meeting during which they will discuss the war in Gaza amid deep concern about Israeli plans to launch a ground offensive in the city of Rafah.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the UN secretary general António Guterres will join the leaders at the start of their two-day meeting, in part to encourage some member countries to resume funding for the UN Palestinian relief agency (Unrwa), the main provider of aid in Gaza.

Israeli allegations that 12 of Unrwa’s 13,000 Gaza staff members participated in the 7 October Hamas attacks in southern Israel, resulted in major donors to the UN agency suspending their funding. AFP report that more than a dozen countries suspended funding worth about $450m (€413m/£353m), almost half its budget for 2024.

Early this month, the European Commission said it would pay €50m ($54m/£42m) to the agency after it agreed to allow EU-appointed experts to audit the way it screens staff to identify extremists. Germany has not resumed funding.

The Israel-Hamas war has driven 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians from their homes, and UN officials say a quarter of the population is starving. The agency is the main supplier of food, water and shelter but is on the brink of financial collapse.

Concern is also mounting about an imminent Israeli ground offensive against Hamas in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city near the border with Egypt. It’s a plan that has raised global alarm because of the potential for harm to the hundreds of thousands of civilians sheltering there.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel can’t achieve its goal of “total victory” against Hamas without going into Rafah.

In a draft of their summit statement, seen by the AP, the leaders are set to underline that such an operation “would worsen the already catastrophic humanitarian situation and prevent the urgently needed provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance.”

Four killed so far in Israeli operation in the Nur Shams refugee camp, says the PRCS

The death toll rose to four on Thursday in an Israeli operation in the Nur Shams refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said.

“Palestine Red Crescent ambulance teams have just transported an 18-year-old young man who was killed by the Israeli occupation forces in Nur Shams camp,” the group said on X, adding his death brought the toll to four.

Two of the four Palestinians were killed by an airstrike and two by live bullets, the Red Crescent said.

🚨Palestine Red Crescent ambulance teams have just transported an 18-year-old young man who was killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces in Nour Shams camp, Tulkarem. This brings the total number of martyrs to 4 since the Israeli occupation forces raided the camp yesterday.…

— PRCS (@PalestineRCS) March 21, 2024

Israeli forces involved in the operation withdrew from the camp in the morning, AFP journalists reported. The Israeli army told AFP it was checking the death toll.

The military told AFP on Thursday that it had been carrying out an operation in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nur Shams, which adjoins the town of Tulkarem in the northern West Bank.

“During the operation, an aircraft struck two terrorists who posed an immediate threat to the forces,” the Israeli army said.

In total, eight Palestinians were killed in less than 24 hours in the West Bank, reports AFP.

Three Palestinians, including an Islamic Jihad commander, were killed late on Wednesday in an Israeli strike on a car in Jenin, a stronghold of Palestinian armed factions in the northern West Bank.

One Palestinian was killed by gunfire in the al-Amari refugee camp near Ramallah.

According to the Palestinian Authority, more than 430 Palestinians have been killed in the territory by Israeli troops or settlers since the war began.

Here are some of the latest images on the newswires:

Palestinian Muhammad al-Durra, whose house was destroyed in an Israeli attack and who lost his wife, prepares to breaks his fast as he sits with his children on Wednesday in Rafah. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images
Supporters, friends and family members of Israeli hostages kidnapped by Hamas, take part in an event called ‘unite for mental health’ at a square in Tel Aviv on Wednesday evening. Photograph: Carlos García Rawlins/Reuters
People and first responders inspect the rubble and debris of a building that collapsed after an Israeli airstrike in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Photograph: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images
Chief of the general staff of the Israel Defense Forces Herzi Halevi walks along with other officials, during what the Israeli military says was a visit to al-Shifa hospital on Wednesday. Photograph: Israel Defense Forces/Reuters

More than 140 militants killed in raid on al-Shifa medical centre since Monday, says Israeli military

More than 140 militants have been killed in four days of fighting in and around Gaza’s largest hospital, where the Israeli army’s operation is still under way, the military said on Thursday reports AFP.

Israel launched a raid on al-Shifa medical centre on Monday, targeting what it said were senior Hamas militants with tank fire and airstrikes.

Combat has raged for days in and around the sprawling hospital complex crowded with patients and displaced people. A previous raid on the complex in November triggered international outrage.

“Since the start of the operation, over 140 terrorists have been eliminated in the area of the hospital,” the army said, referring to fighting since Monday.

The military added that it was “continuing to conduct precise operational activity in the Shifa hospital area”, and that “over the past day, more than 50 terrorists were eliminated during exchanges of fire”.

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65 Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes in the past 24 hours, says health ministry

The latest figures from the Gaza health ministry, which is run by Hamas, said 65 Palestinians were killed and 92 injured in Israeli strikes in the past 24 hours.

According to the statement, at least 31,988 Palestinians have been killed and 74,188 have been injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since 7 October.

The ministry does not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.

The writers’ group PEN America has offered an olive branch to a group of prominent authors and literary figures who withdrew from its flagship World Voices festival in protest at its perceived stance over the Israel-Gaza war.

In an open letter published on Wednesday, the organization said it wants to meet with the authors and others in a public forum to foster a better understanding of its position and discuss “sharply divergent views on questions of deep consequence”.

It says it is also making “a substantial financial contribution”, believed to be about $100,000, to the Netherlands-based PEN emergency fund for distribution to Palestinian writers in what it asserts is an “expansion of existing support”.

A lack of backing for writers in Gaza was one of the allegations made by the authors last week in a highly critical letter to the literary freedom advocacy organisation.

You can read Richard Luscombe’s full piece here:

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Al Jazeera journalist Laura Khan, reporting from the occupied West Bank, has reported a “particularly violent” night there on Wednesday into Thursday morning.

Khan writes:

We’re seeing daily overnight raids in the occupied West Bank, but on Wednesday night into Thursday morning, it was particularly violent.

The city of Tulkarem had a particularly violent night. The Israeli army raided at dawn and started to tear up infrastructure, including roads. Witnesses say it is the most brutally violent night they’ve ever had in terms of the destruction they’ve seen around them.”

She also said an Israeli drone strike in Jenin had killed four men, while in the south of Hebron soldiers had shot a man in the leg after he “tried to carry out a stabbing attack”.

Khan also writes: “In Nablus, a witness account described how one man had his phone confiscated by an Israeli soldier and was brutally beaten for an hour, mostly in his face.”

The Guardian has been unable to verify these incidents.

AFP also reports that two Palestinians were killed in an airstrike who the Israeli military said had posed a threat to its troops during an operation in the Nur Shams refugee camp in the West Bank’s northwest early on Thursday.

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Saudi Arabia pledges $40m to Unrwa as Blinken arrives in Riyadh

AFP reports that Riyadh announced, as Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia, that it would donate $40m to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa), which has been central to aid operations in Gaza but has faced massive funding cuts and calls for its abolition spearheaded by Israel.

Unrwa chief Philippe Lazzarini has warned that “siege, hunger and diseases will soon become the main killer in Gaza”.

World Bank report finds imminent risk of catastrophic famine in Gaza Strip

Half the population of the Gaza Strip is at imminent risk of famine as food shortages approach catastrophic levels for more than a million people, the World Bank has warned.

Almost six months after the war between Israel and Hamas began, the Washington-based Bank said urgent action was needed to prevent widespread deaths from starvation within the next two months.

More than one million people in Gaza face the risk of acute malnutrition or death, according to the report. Photograph: Hatem Ali/AP

The new data from the Bank came as the UN secretary general, António Guterres, called on Israel to give immediate and unconditional access to Gaza for aid via land.

“I call on the Israeli authorities to ensure complete and unfettered access for humanitarian routes throughout Gaza,” he said before a meeting with the European Commission’s president in Brussels.

The Bank’s regular update found that of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million, there were 1.1 million in the highest risk category – people in catastrophe – which meant risk of acute malnutrition or death. A further 854,000 (38%) were in the next category down – people in emergency – where immediate action was needed to save lives. The remaining 12% were in the third category: people in crisis. Nobody in Gaza was placed in the bottom two categories – people stressed or people in food security.

“Household surveys reveal alarming trends, with virtually all households skipping meals daily and a significant portion of children under two suffering from acute malnutrition,” the report said.

You can read the full article by Larry Elliott and Lisa O’Carroll here:

Israeli diplomats pre-emptively attack findings of Unrwa inquiries

Patrick Wintour

Patrick Wintour

Israeli diplomats have pre-emptively attacked the findings of two inquires into the role of the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency, Unrwa, in Gaza, on the day that one of the inquiries submitted its interim finding to the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres.

Unrwa has come under heavy criticism since Israel accused 12 of its Gaza staff of 13,000 of being implicated in the 7 October Hamas attack on southern Israel. The agency denies the charge and says no solid evidence has been presented to support it.

The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) launched an investigation on 29 January after the Israeli allegations. Parallel to the OIOS inquiry, a broader review of Unrwa’s activities and neutrality is under way, led by a former French foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, and supported by three Nordic research organisations.

The Colonna review was commissioned by Guterres in January, before the Israeli allegations were made. The review group, which presented its interim findings on Tuesday, found that “Unrwa has in place a significant number of mechanisms and procedures to ensure compliance with the humanitarian principle of neutrality.”

But the UN spokesperson Florencia Soto Nino said investigators had “also identified critical areas that still need to be addressed”.

You can read the full piece by the Guardian’s diplomatic editor, Patrick Wintour, here:

Mediators met for a third day of talks in Qatar on Wednesday in a renewed effort to secure a ceasefire but with little indication of an imminent agreement, reports AFP.

The plan being discussed in Qatar would temporarily halt the fighting as Israeli hostages are exchanged for Palestinian prisoners and the delivery of relief supplies to Gaza is stepped up.

According to AFP, senior Hamas official based in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, said Israel’s response to the group’s latest proposal was “largely negative … and constitutes a step backwards”.

Further on the fighting at al-Shifa hospital, AFP have the following report:

The latest fighting has included an Israeli assault on Gaza City’s al-Shifa hospital, a vast complex crowded with patients and people seeking refuge, where Israel says Palestinian militants are holed up.

The Israeli army said “over 300 suspects” had been apprehended in the hospital raid that began on Monday, including “dozens of senior terrorists and those with key positions”.

Israel said its forces have “killed approximately 90 terrorists” since the start of the raid, and army chief Herzi Halevi said the objective was “not to allow such a place to be controlled” by Hamas.

Hamas condemned Israeli “crimes” at al-Shifa “for the third day in a row, the executions of dozens of displaced persons, patients and staff”.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run territory said at least 70 people had been killed in Gaza overnight.

50 Palestinian gunmen killed in fighting at Gaza’s Shifa hospital, say Israeli army

The Israeli military said on Thursday that it killed more than 50 Palestinian gunmen over the past day in fighting around the Gaza Strip’s al-Shifa hospital, reports Reuters.

The military said it was continuing with its “precise operational activity in the Shifa hospital.”

“Over the past day, more than 50 terrorists were eliminated during exchanges of fire, and terrorist infrastructure and weapons storage facilities were located. Since the start of the operation, over 140 terrorists have been eliminated in the area of the hospital,” it said.

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US unveils draft UN resolution seeking immediate Gaza ceasefire

The US has circulated a draft UN security council resolution calling for an “immediate ceasefire linked to the release of hostages” in the Gaza Strip, secretary of state Antony Blinken said.

The diplomat made his announcement while on a tour of the Middle East that will include a stop in Israel, reports the news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Key Israel backer the US has vetoed previous UN security council votes on the nearly six-month war, objecting as recently as in February to the use of the term “immediate” in a draft submitted by Algeria.

In recent weeks, however, Washington has upped the pressure on its ally, while insisting that Hamas militants must immediately release the hostages seized by militants during its 7 October attacks on Israel.

“Well, in fact, we actually have a resolution that we put forward right now that’s before the UN security council that does call for an immediate ceasefire tied to the release of hostages, and we hope very much that countries will support that,” Blinken said in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan (R) met US secretary of state Antony Blinken in Jeddah, on Wednesday. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/AFP/Getty Images

“I think that would send a strong message, a strong signal,” he told Saudi media outlet Al Hadath on Wednesday.

“Of course, we stand with Israel and its right to defend itself … but at the same time, it’s imperative that the civilians who are in harm’s way and who are suffering so terribly – that we focus on them, that we make them a priority, protecting the civilians, getting them humanitarian assistance,” Blinken said.

US officials had been negotiating an alternative text since blocking an Algerian draft resolution calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza at the end of February.

That alternative, focusing on support for a six-week truce in exchange for the release of hostages, had little chance winning approval, according to diplomatic sources.

A new version, seen by AFP, stresses “the need for an immediate and durable ceasefire to protect civilians on all sides, enable the delivery of essential humanitarian aid, and alleviate suffering … in conjunction with the release of hostages still held”. No vote has yet been scheduled on this text.

Blinken met Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and then held talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman soon after landing in the kingdom on Wednesday on the first leg of a regional tour that will include Egypt on Thursday and then Israel on Friday.

Opening summary

It has gone 10am in Gaza and Tel Aviv. This is our latest Guardian live blog on the Israel-Gaza war and the wider Middle East crisis.

The US has circulated a draft UN security council resolution calling for an “immediate ceasefire linked to the release of hostages” in Gaza, secretary of state Antony Blinken has said.

“We hope very much that countries will support that,” Blinken said while in Saudi Arabia for talks on the war between Israel and Hamas.

The US, Israel’s main backer, had previously used its UN security council veto to block the world body from calling for an immediate ceasefire.

More on that in a moment, but first here is a summary of the other main events:

  • Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu again stated on Wednesday Israel’s intention to launch a ground offensive against Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip, but cautioned that it will “take some time” for Israel’s forces to be ready. In a video statement Netanyahu said that he will soon approve a plan for the evacuation of Palestinian civilians from fighting areas after having green-lit the military’s operational plans for Rafah.

  • Hamas senior official Osama Hamdan said on Wednesday that the Israeli response to the group’s latest Gaza ceasefire proposal was negative after mediators handed it over. In a press conference in Beirut he claimed that Israel had retracted previous negotiation approvals in the latest talks.

  • US secretary of state Antony Blinken arrived on Wednesday in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia for talks. His sixth visit to the region since 7 October will also include Egypt, and he is expected in Israel on Friday.

  • Israeli diplomats have pre-emptively attacked the findings of two inquires into the role of the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency (Unrwa) in Gaza, on the day that one of the inquiries submitted its interim finding to the United Nations secretary general. Unrwa has come under heavy criticism since Israel accused 12 of its Gaza staff of 13,000 of being implicated in the 7 October Hamas attack on southern Israel. The agency denies the charge and says no solid evidence has been presented to support it.

  • Half the population of the Gaza Strip is at imminent risk of famine as food shortages approach catastrophic levels for more than a million people, the World Bank has warned. Almost six months after the war between Israel and Hamas began, the Washington-based Bank said urgent action was needed to prevent widespread deaths from starvation within the next two months.

  • A delegation of US and British doctors is in Washington DC to tell the Biden administration the Israeli military is systematically destroying Gaza’s health infrastructure in order to drive Palestinians out of their homes. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it has recorded over 400 attacks on healthcare infrastructure in Gaza between 7 October 2023 and 12 March 2024.





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