Displaced Palestinian couple celebrate tent wedding
Family members cheered as a displaced Palestinian couple held their wedding in a tent in Gaza.
Israel's longstanding peace with its southern neighbor could be threatened by the pursuit of Hamas militants deeper into the Gaza Strip as the country gets closer to the border with Egypt.
The Israeli military has pushed most of Gaza's population south during its ongoing operations, forcing more than a million Palestinians to crowd in and around the border town of Rafah. If the Israeli offensive in Rafah continues, Egyptian officials fear that thousands of cornered Palestinians could storm into their territory, as happened in 2008 after Hamas seized power and blew up the border wall.
Israeli officials say Hamas is smuggling weapons through the Philadelphia Corridor – the narrow strip of land that covers the southern latitude of the Gaza Strip and separates it from Egyptian territory – and insist they must control it to reach their target, Hamas shattered, to achieve.
Egypt denies that weapons are passing through the buffer zone, which is demilitarized under the terms of the 1979 peace deal with Israel, and warned that deploying troops would violate that agreement.
“Any Israeli move in this direction will lead to a serious threat to Egyptian-Israeli relations,” said Diaa Rashwan, head of Egypt’s State Information Service.
Egypt was among the countries trying to negotiate a ceasefire or truce that could lead to the release of hostages. Israel, already clashing with Hezbollah militants on its northern border and facing widespread accusations of killing 25,000 Palestinians in response to Hamas attacks on October 7, can ill afford to anger Egypt.
An Egyptian official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that his country had warned Israel and the United States that any military operations in the Philadelphia corridor “could destroy our peace,” adding: “We will not tolerate such a move.” “
∎ The Palestinian Authority is negotiating a loan from the United Arab Emirates and Norway to compensate for tax revenue withheld by Israel, the Times of Israel reported, citing a senior Western diplomat. Israel says the $75 million in tax revenue could be passed on to Hamas.
∎ Netanyahu has pledged more than $900 million to support communities in northern Israel facing constant rocket fire from Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon. More than 80,000 Israeli residents were displaced. “We will continue to build communities,” Netanyahu said at a meeting of mayors. “We will make them more prosperous than before.”
∎ Israeli commandos strengthened “operational control” over the city of Khan Younis, a Hamas terrorist stronghold, the Israeli military said in a statement. A key Hamas headquarters was searched and many weapons, tactical radios, night vision devices, maps and intelligence information “of great value” were confiscated, the statement said.
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President Joe Biden appeared poised to send the CIA director to jump-start talks on releasing hostages at a time when Israeli leaders are criticizing Qatar's efforts to negotiate a ceasefire deal.
The Washington Post, citing officials familiar with the matter, reported that CIA Director William Burns would travel to Europe within days to speak with officials from Israel, Egypt and Qatar to help negotiate a deal . The post said Israel's proposal included a 60-day pause in fighting and the gradual release of the remaining hostages, but Hamas called for a permanent ceasefire.
John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, declined to confirm the Post's report.
Qatar played a key role in negotiations that led to a week-long ceasefire and the release of more than 100 hostages in November. In recent days, the small Persian Gulf emirate has been working with Egypt on a new deal to bring home the more than 130 remaining hostages.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in remarks to the hostages' families broadcast on Israel's Channel 12 and elsewhere, called Qatar's role “problematic” and claimed it could put more pressure on the Islamist militant group than has been the case so far be. Qatar is home to several top Hamas leaders.
Majed al-Ansari, spokesman for the Qatari Foreign Ministry responded to Netanyahu's comments are “irresponsible and destructive to efforts to save innocent lives, but not surprising.”
Israeli shelling hit a crowd of Palestinians waiting for humanitarian aid in Gaza City on Thursday, killing at least 20 people and wounding 150, Gaza's health ministry said. Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said the death toll from the attack in the northern Gaza Strip was likely to rise. The Israeli military said it was investigating the reports.
In southern Gaza, the death toll rose to 12 in an attack on a UN shelter in Khan Younis. The shelter that was bombed and caught fire on Wednesday was a UN training center converted to accommodate thousands of Palestinians, who had been displaced by the Israeli military's devastation operation. Thomas White, a senior official at the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, said more than 75 people were injured and 15 remained in critical condition Thursday.
White did not call Israel the culprit in the bunker explosion. The Israeli military said it was still investigating the incident but did not believe the attack came from its aircraft or artillery – adding that a Hamas rocket could have been responsible. Thomas said heavy fighting near hospitals in Khan Younis had left “frightened staff, patients and displaced people trapped inside,” White said.
“Continued attacks on civilian sites in Khan Younis are completely unacceptable and must stop immediately,” White said in a statement on Thursday. “People are being killed and injured. “As fighting intensifies around hospitals and shelters for displaced people, people are trapped inside and life-saving efforts are hampered.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz and the families of some hostages in Gaza lobbied Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani to persuade the Lebanese government to withdraw Hezbollah from southern Lebanon. The alternative for Lebanon, Katz said, is “to suffer a blow from which it will not recover.” Since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out in October, there have been clashes between Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and Israel along Lebanon's southern border.
“Tajani is a true friend of the State of Israel,” Katz said in a social media post. “I and the families of the abductees told him that we had no choice but to end our mission in Gaza – to bring all the abductees home and eliminate Hamas. I asked him to work with the Lebanese government to withdraw Hezbollah from southern Lebanon, otherwise “The state of Lebanon will suffer a blow from which it will not recover.”
Contribution: The Associated Press