Deadly fighting raged in Gaza on Monday, where the humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate, while the European Union called for an audit of the UN aid agency for the Palestinians after Israel raised allegations about the possible involvement of some of its members in the Hamas attack against Israel.
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Fears of a widening conflict resurfaced after three American soldiers were killed in Jordan in a drone strike that Washington blamed on groups backed by Iran. This is the first time American soldiers have been killed in the Middle East since the war in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist movement began on October 7.
In Gaza, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which provides vital aid to Palestinian civilians, is in trouble after allegations that 12 of its staff were involved in the bloody Hamas attack on October 7.
The European Union on Monday called on Unrwa to “accept that an audit will be carried out by independent experts selected by the European Commission”.
The agency launched an investigation on Friday following allegations from Israel, but several contributing countries halted their funding, despite calls from the UN Secretary-General to ensure the continuation of their vital operations serving the population.
Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack killed about 1,140 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli figures.
In response, Israel vowed to “destroy” the Islamist movement ruling Gaza, which it, like the United States and the European Union, classifies as a terrorist organization, and launched a massive military operation in Gaza that killed 26,637 people, according to an updated report According to the Hamas Ministry of Health on Monday, the majority are women, children and young people.
Negotiations for a new ceasefire continue behind the scenes. CIA and American intelligence director William Burns met with senior Egyptian, Israeli and Qatari officials in Paris on Sunday. Israel reported “constructive” discussions, but stressed that there were “still differences” and that further talks were expected in the coming days.
A security source confirmed to AFP that US President Joe Biden had sent Mr Burns to negotiate the release of the last Israeli hostages held by Hamas in return for a ceasefire.
John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, described the discussions on Monday as “serious.” “I would even say they were constructive. A lot of work has been done,” he said on CNN, “but we have not crossed the finish line yet.”
Qatar, Egypt and the USA negotiated an initial ceasefire at the end of November. Around a hundred of the approximately 250 people kidnapped in Israel on October 7th were subsequently released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.
According to Israeli authorities, 132 hostages are still being held in the territory, 28 of whom are believed to be dead.
According to the New York Times, the proposed agreement would include a two-month ceasefire and the release of all hostages against Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
Explosive regional context
On Monday, Hamas' health ministry said at least 140 people were killed in nightly attacks across the Gaza Strip, including in Khan Yunis in the south and Gaza City in the north.
According to the Israeli army, its soldiers killed “dozens of armed terrorists in fighting in the central Gaza Strip,” where large quantities of weapons were found.
According to witnesses, “very fierce” fighting is raging in Khan Younes, which is considered a stronghold of the Islamist movement.
On Sunday, fighting broke out around Nasser and al-Amal hospitals, the city's two largest hospitals, which are only partially functioning and are housing thousands of refugees.
According to the United Nations, more than 1.3 million people displaced by the conflict are crowded into Rafah, in the far south of the territory, on the closed border with Egypt.
According to Gaza civil defense spokesman Mahmoud Bassal, hundreds of tents housing displaced people were flooded by the heavy rains that fell in the area overnight, worsening their already very precarious living conditions.
Five Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire and many more injured in multiple Israeli operations in the occupied West Bank on Monday, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
In Israel, protesters on Monday blocked the entry of trucks carrying humanitarian aid at the Kerem Shalom border crossing near Rafah, demanding that aid delivered in small portions should not reach the Gaza Strip until the hostages were released.
In an explosive regional context, three American soldiers were killed and 34 wounded in a drone strike in northeastern Jordan, near the border with Syria and Iraq, Washington said on Sunday. They blamed pro-Iranian groups for this and threatened “very significant” retaliation.
These Iraqi factions are part of what Iran portrays as an “axis of resistance” against Israel, which includes Hamas, the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah and groups in Syria.
Tehran denied any involvement in the attack, which Iraq condemned on Monday and called for “stopping the spiral of violence” in the Middle East.
In Syria, seven people, including pro-Iranian fighters, were killed in an Israeli attack in southern Damascus, according to a local NGO.