UN set to vote on U.S.-led Gaza ceasefire resolution

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli leaders in Tel Aviv on Friday on the final stop in his sixth urgent trip to the region since the start of the war, as the U.S. planned to put a resolution calling for an immediate truce in Gaza to a vote of the UN Security Council, intensifying pressure on its ally.

Blinken said he would share alternatives to Israel’s planned ground assault into the southern Gaza town of Rafah during talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet.

The United Nations Security Council will vote Friday on a U.S.-sponsored resolution declaring “the imperative of an immediate and sustained ceasefire” in the Israel-Hamas war.

Washington, which traditionally has shielded Israel at the UN, has incrementally applied more pressure to its longtime ally, and the draft resolution marked a further toughening. Earlier in the war, the U.S. was averse to the word ceasefire and vetoed measures that included calls for an immediate ceasefire.

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyansky said Moscow will not be satisfied “with anything that doesn’t call for an immediate ceasefire. He questioned the wording of the draft.

“What’s an imperative? I have an imperative to give you $100, but it’s only an imperative, not $100.”

In a statement overnight, European Union leaders called “for an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and the provision of humanitarian assistance.”

Blinken cautiously optimistic on talks

So little food has been allowed into Gaza that up to 60 per cent of children under five are now malnourished, compared with fewer than one per cent before the war began, World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday.

Palestinian militants led by Hamas killed some 1,200 people including several Canadians in the surprise Oct. 7 attack. The Israeli government tallies also indicate some 130 of 250 hostages remain in Gaza since October, but that at least 31 have been confirmed as dead. Over 100 people were repatriated in exchanges for Palestinian prisoners late last year.

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The Health Ministry in Gaza on Thursday raised the territory’s death toll in Israel’s war response since Oct. 7 to 31,998 Palestinians. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

David Barnes, Israel’s spy chief, was due to travel to Qatar on Friday for ceasefire negotiations centred on a truce of around six weeks that would allow the release of 40 Israeli hostages in return for hundreds of Palestinians detained in Israeli jails, paving the way for more aid to enter Gaza.

Blinken said on Thursday in Cairo that he believed the “gaps are narrowing” in the talks mediated by the U.S., Qatar and Egypt.

Hundreds detained in hospital raid

Meanwhile, Israeli forces have detained hundreds of Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters including a number of security officials and military commanders during its extended raid into Gaza’s main hospital, the military’s main spokesperson said.

Israeli troops entered the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City in the early hours of Monday morning and have been combing through the sprawling complex, which the military says is connected to a tunnel network used as a base for Palestinian fighters.

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It says troops have killed hundreds of fighters and detained over 500 suspects, including 358 members of the Islamist militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the largest number since the beginning of the war nearly six months ago.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, Israel’s main military spokesperson, said special forces units had severely damaged Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Among the detainees were three senior Islamic Jihad military commanders and two Hamas officials responsible for operations in the occupied West Bank as well as other Hamas internal security officials.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

Israel’s plans for the detainees were not immediately clear.

Al-Shifa, the Gaza Strip’s biggest hospital before the war, is now one of the few health-care facilities even partially operational in the north of the territory, and had also been housing displaced civilians.

Israel faced heavy criticism last November when troops first raided the hospital. The troops uncovered tunnels there, which they said had been used as command-and-control centres by Hamas. Hamas and medical staff deny that the hospital is used for military purposes or to shelter fighters.

In recent days, Hamas spokespeople have said that the dead announced in previous Israeli statements were not fighters but patients and displaced people and have accused Israel of war crimes.

Reuters has been unable to access the hospital and verify either account.

Hospitals are protected buildings under international humanitarian law. But allegations that Al-Shifa is also being used for military purposes complicated the situation because that would also breach international law, UN officials have said.

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