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Israel-Hamas war: Doubts grow over Ramadan cease-fire deal

Published March 9, 2024last updated March 9, 2024

Israel and Hamas continue to trade blame over the failure of negotiations to end the five-month conflict. Meanwhile, NGOs say the ship carrying food aid for Gaza is ready to leave Cyprus if cleared.

Smoke rises to the sky following an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, March 8, 2024
Hopes have dimmed for a truce in the five-month conflict during the Muslim holy month of RamadanImage: Leo Correa/AP/picture alliance
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • Israel says talks stalled because Hamas is 'not interested' in cease-fire
  • A Hamas spokesman told Reuters its negotiators unlikely to return to Cairo this weekend
  • Ship carrying food aid for Gaza ready to sail from Cyprus if cleared, NGOs say
  • Sweden, Canada resume aid for UNRWA agency after suspension
  • Leading German bishop urges peace talks and solidarity among religious groups in Ramadan greeting

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Skip next section Israel says Sweden and Canada wrong to resume UNRWA funding
March 9, 2024

Israel says Sweden and Canada wrong to resume UNRWA funding

Israel sharply criticized recent announcements that Canada and Sweden will resume aid funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Israel has said a dozen of UNRWA's 30,000 workers actively participated in the October 7 Hamas attack on villages and kibbutzim in southern Israel that killed nearly 1,200 people and in which another 250 were kidnapped.

The incident triggered an immediate halt to Western funding, in turn causing UNRWA, which is central to getting humanitarian aid to beleaguered Palestinians in Gaza, to warn of the organization’s collapse if funding was not renewed.

Fifteen major donors, including the US, UK and Germany, suspended funding in late January after Israel leveled the claims.

Canada said funding would resume "because of the dire humanitarian situation on the ground." 

Israel accused Canada and Sweden of "ignoring the involvement of UNRWA employees in terrorist activity."

Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the reversal a “serious mistake.”

UNRWA boss Philippe Lazzarini on Saturday said he was "cautiously optimistic" that other countries would resume funding over "the coming weeks."

Skip next section Thousands march in pro-Palestinian rallies across Europe
March 9, 2024

Thousands march in pro-Palestinian rallies across Europe

Thousands of protesters again took to the streets of European cities in support of Palestinians in Gaza and to call for an immediate cease-fire. 

Protesters said they wanted to stand in solidarity with Palestinian civilians who have been subjected to the brunt of Israel's military response to the brutal October 7 attacks by the terror group Hamas.

Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told demonstrators in Londonthat "we're here because we're appalled at the bombing that's still going on in Gaza." 

In Paris, France, protesters chanted "Stop the genocide" and "Free Palestine" while also calling for an immediate cease-fire. 

The Paris march was called by a group close to the left-wing La France Insoumise (LFI) party and calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, a concept that has been labeled antisemitic in some countries, including Germany.

Such marches have continued to attract large numbers of participants.

Although most people march in peace, others have continued to chant unfounded and antisemitic claims. 

At the same time, municipalities have incurred enormous costs because of the massive police presence required at politically charged events.

Skip next section Hamas estimates war damages at $30 billion
March 9, 2024

Hamas estimates war damages at $30 billion

The Hamas-controlled media office in Gaza on Saturday estimated that damage to buildings and infrastructure totals about $30 billion (€27.5 billion), with close to 80% of buildings in the enclave affected. 

The media office said it was taking into account damage to residential buildings, economic facilities, and infrastructure such as roads, the electricity network, water pipes and sewer systems. 

The information and the valuation could not be independently verified. Access to Gaza is limited, but widespread damage to urban areas in the densely populated enclave is clear in the footage and images that emerge.

Person walks amid destruction by Israeli offensive on Gaza Strip, Friday, March 8, 2024.
Damage has been observed across Gaza, including in the southern city of Khan YounisImage: Hatem Ali/AP/picture alliance

Israel largely blames Hamas and its tactics for this, saying the group embeds itself among civilian populations and in residential areas, leaving its military with no good options. But many countries, including close allies such as the United States and Germany, have appealed to Israel to do more to try to limit civilian casualties in its military operations.

Skip next section Israel says Mossad and CIA heads met, Hamas 'not interested' in cease-fire
March 9, 2024

Israel says Mossad and CIA heads met, Hamas 'not interested' in cease-fire

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office issued a statement on behalf of the spy agency Mossad on Saturday, saying the country was still seeking an exchange deal of some kind with Hamas and accusing the group of not engaging seriously in the talks. 

"The head of the Mossad, David Barnea, met yesterday with the head of the CIA, Bill Burns, as part of the ceaseless efforts to advance another hostage deal," the statement said. 

It said Israel remained in contact with mediators seeking a possible deal but added that Hamas was "not interested" and was "striving to inflame the region during Ramadan." 

Hamas in turn has blamed Israel for the deadlock. Its armed wing said on Friday that there would be "no compromise" on its demand for a permanent Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in exchange for the hostages' release.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that "the issue is whether Hamas will decide or not to have a cease-fire that would benefit everyone," saying the ball was "in their court." 

Talks with international mediation in several venues in recent weeks have so far failed to produce an agreement similar to the one-week pause in fighting brokered late last year. It also facilitated aid deliveries and involved the release of some of the hostages taken by Hamas in exchange for the release of Palestinians in Israeli jails. That deal broadly held but expired without extension.

The talks are expected to resume in Cairo next week around the start of Ramadan.

Skip next section Boat in Cyprus ready to sail for Gaza, NGOs say
March 9, 2024

Boat in Cyprus ready to sail for Gaza, NGOs say

Spanish NGO Open Arms has said a boat laden with aid is in Cyprus and would be able to sail for Gaza as soon as Saturday if the goal set out by the European Union and other bodies of enabling such deliveries by sea materializes. 

Open Arms said the small ship, of the same name, arrived in Cyprus three weeks ago on a joint mission with World Central Kitchen.

A World Central Kitchen worker said in a video shared online that Open Arms was "getting ready to set sail to deliver food aid into Gaza." 

The US charity had coordinated truck deliveries at the Rafah crossing and with air drops operated by Jordan's military in recent months, he said. 

"This is the next step in providing food aid into Gaza. And, if we can do this, and do this on a massive scale, imagine what kind of help we can do, especially to the people of northern Gaza," he said. 

The barge was being laden with 200 tons of various types of basic foodstuffs. 

The two NGOs were working with the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Cyprus on the operation, World Central Kitchen said. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke of the pilot aid operation at the Larnaca port during her trip to Cyprus on Friday.

The Open Arms ship docked at Larnaca in Cyprus, March 8, 2024, pictured at night.
The ship's departure time is unclear, but Open Arms said it could leave SaturdayImage: Marcos Andronicou/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Skip next section German bishop Bätzing urges peace process 'worthy of the name'
March 9, 2024

German bishop Bätzing urges peace process 'worthy of the name'

German Catholic Bishop Georg Bätzing called for solidarity among religious communities in a greeting marking the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. 

Given the pressures stemming from the violence and the tension in the Middle East, Bätzing wrote that it was all the more important "that we stay in dialogue, recognize the other's suffering and do not give up on the hope for peace." 

Georg Bätzing, pictured during a March 2023 event in Frankfurt.
Bätzing called for a halt to fighting and ultimately for talks seeking a two-state solution Image: Arne Dedert/dpa/picture alliance

He welcomed the fact that Ramadan this year again overlaps with the Christian period of Lent and that adherents of the two religions would be worshipping similarly together.

Bätzing, who is Bishop of Limburg and also the chair of the Catholic German Bishops' Conference, called for a halt to fighting in Gaza and peace talks. 

"Israel's right to exist is just as unquestionable to us as the Palestinians' right to their own state," Bätzing said. "The humanitarian situation in Gaza cries to heaven. Innocent civilians' blood can no longer be spilled. We advocate a peace process that's worthy of the name. A lasting end to the escalation of violence in the Middle East can only come about through a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians."

In Germany, he called for all religious communities to show solidarity rather than division and to support each other if tensions or persecution emerge.

Skip next section UNRWA at 'risk of death,' agency chief says
March 9, 2024

UNRWA at 'risk of death,' agency chief says

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is "at risk of death" after several donors suspended their funding over Israeli allegations that some of its staff took part in the October 7 attacks by Hamas in southern Israel, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said.

"The agency is at risk of death; it is risking dismantlement," Lazzarini told Swiss broadcaster RTS. "What is at stake is the fate of the Palestinians today in Gaza in the short term who are going through an absolutely unprecedented humanitarian crisis."

UNRWA has been at the center of controversy since Israel in January accused 12 of its roughly 30,000 employees of involvement in the October 7 attack, prompting major donors to suspend funding.

Aid ship set to sail from Cyprus to Gaza

Skip next section ICRC says war in Gaza has 'ruptured any sense of a shared humanity'
March 9, 2024

ICRC says war in Gaza has 'ruptured any sense of a shared humanity'

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says the situation in Gaza is worsening rapidly and has called for an urgent cease-fire.

ICRC head Mirjana Spoljaric uged Israel and Hamas to respect international law and protect civilians caught up in their conflict.

She said delivering a steady flow of aid into the besieged Palestinian territory, where the United Nations says more than 90% of the population is close to famine, was "only part of the solution."

"Alleviating the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza starts with a clear will and measures that safeguard civilian life and human dignity, meaning both sides must conduct their military operations in a way that spares the civilians who are caught in the middle," Spoljaric said. 

"The only way to achieve this is that the parties strictly adhere to international humanitarian law, which means preserving the life, dignity and humanity of all people affected by armed conflict, regardless of which side they are on.  

Spoljaric said the war had "ruptured any sense of a shared humanity."

"As an occupying power, Israel must provide for the basic needs of the population or facilitate the safe and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian relief," Spoljaric said. 

"The situation in the Gaza Strip degenerates by the hour. There is nowhere safe for people to go. The civilian death toll and the ongoing captivity of hostages are shocking and unacceptable," Spoljaric said.  

Von der Leyen: EU supports sea corridor for aid to Gaza

Skip next section Dozens of Hamas fighters killed in latest Gaza operations — Israel
March 9, 2024

Dozens of Hamas fighters killed in latest Gaza operations — Israel

Military officials say Israeli troops have killed dozens of Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip over the past 24 hours.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said the military had killed some 20 fighters in the southern city of Khan Younis, both in close combat and airstrikes. 

The IDF said military facilities of the enemy had been destroyed in targeted operations with an unspecified number of fighters captured.

At least ten other fighters were killed in central Gaza, the IDF said. No international journalists are able to enter Gaza and it is not possible to verify casualty numbers on either side of the conflict.

Skip next section Death toll rises to 30,960 — Gaza Ministry of Health
March 9, 2024

Death toll rises to 30,960 — Gaza Ministry of Health

The Gaza death toll has now reached 30,960 according to the territory's Health Ministry, an agency in the Hamas-controlled government.

Ministry officials also said a total of 72,524 Palestinians have been injured in the Israeli campaign that has now been going on for over four months. Israel launched its Gaza operation after Hamas carried out terror attacks on Israel on October 7. 

At least 82 people were killed in the past 24 hours, the ministry added.

The UN and multiple humanitarian organizations consider the death toll and casualty numbers to be broadly reliable.

Around half of Gaza's 2.3 million inhabitants are children and the United Nations says the majority of civilians killed have been women and children. 

Skip next section Sweden to resume payments to UNRWA
March 9, 2024

Sweden to resume payments to UNRWA

Sweden said it was resuming aid to the UN refugee agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) with an initial disbursement of 200 million kronor (€17.7 million, $20 million) after receiving assurances of additional checks on spending and personnel.

"The government has allocated 400 million kronor to UNRWA for the year 2024. Today's decision concerns a first payment of 200 million kronor," the Swedish government said in a statement.

It added that to unblock the aid, UNRWA had agreed to "allow controls, independent audits, to strengthen internal supervision and extra controls of personnel."

Like several other countries, Sweden suspended aid to UNRWA in October after Israel accused about a dozen of its employees of involvement in the October 7 Hamas attack that sparked the conflict in Gaza.

Skip next section CENTCOM denies US airdrops killed civilians
March 9, 2024

CENTCOM denies US airdrops killed civilians

The US Central Command (CENTCOM) denied on Friday that a deadly aid airdrop which killed civilians in the Gaza Strip was conducted by US troops.

In a social media statement, CENTCOM said it was aware of reports that a humanitarian airdrop killed civilians.

"We express sympathies to the families of those who were killed. Contrary to some reports, this was not the result of US airdrops," the statement read.

Gaza's Hamas-controlled Health Ministry said that five people were killed and another 10 wounded on Friday by an airdrop in the north of the territory. 

The parachute for the food aid container failed to open properly, meaning the package fell to ground in freefall.

In recent weeks, various countries have begun dropping aid shipments via parachute into Gaza to address food shortages and other issues. Despite criticism from experts, who say land shipments would be more efficient and less dangerous, the practice has intensified since the US adopted it on Saturday.

Jordan also distanced itself from the incident. Unnamed sources told Jordan's state news agency on Friday that the technical error had not occurred on any of the Jordanian aircraft involved.

Skip next section Canada to resume funding for UNRWA
March 9, 2024

Canada to resume funding for UNRWA

Canada has announced it is resuming frozen funding to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), after suspending its funding over a month ago, alongside over a dozen other countries.

The freeze came after Israel accused around a dozen UNRWA staff of being involved in the October 7 terror attacksby Hamas.

UNRWA immediately fired the employees and opened an investigation but several donors suspended funding anyway. 

Canadian Minister of International Development Ahmed Hussen told reporters on Friday the funding would now resume.

"We're resuming funding to UNRWA because of the dire humanitarian situation on the ground," he said, noting that Canada was the first G7 nation to resume funding. Canada has reviewed the investigation's interim report and "we were reassured by the contents," he added. 

The Canadian government is due to contribute $25 million Canadian ($19 million, €16.8 million) to UNRWA in April and will not miss a payment as a result of the pause.

UNRWA claims facing a deliberate campaign to end its operations

Skip next section Biden says cease-fire before Ramadan 'looking tough'
March 9, 2024

Biden says cease-fire before Ramadan 'looking tough'

US President Joe Biden has raised skepticism regarding a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip to coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, likely to begin on either Sunday or Monday evening.

"It's looking tough," Biden told reporters, after talks over a six-week cease-fire broke down a day earlier, despite previous optimism.

When asked about the possibility of violence in east Jerusalem during the holy month, Biden said "I sure am" worried.

After Israel's far-right security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in east Jerusalem would be further restricted during Ramadan, the Palestinian militant group Hamas called on Palestinians to march to the mosque. The mosque compound is of great religious significance to both Muslims and Jews and has regularly been the scene of violent clashes. Israeli security forces warned against the new restrictions saying they would only increase tensions and several days ago, the Israeli government decided against them.

Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by several countries, including Israel, the US and Germany.

Meanwhile Biden's growing impatience with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was revealed during a conversation with a senator. At the time, Biden was still being recorded by a microphone — a so called "hot mic."

Biden was heard saying: "I told him, 'Bibi,' — and don't repeat this — 'but you and I are going to have a come to Jesus meeting'." Bibi is Netanyahu's nickname.

The American expression, "come to Jesus" refers to a dramatic realization that one must correct course.

The US president was then warned that his microphone remained on.

In his key State of the Union speech, Biden called on Israeli leadership to refrain from using aid to Gaza as a "bargaining chip."

rmt/wd (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

Skip next section US says Gaza aid port could take up to 60 days
March 9, 2024

US says Gaza aid port could take up to 60 days

A temporary port the US is building to bring aid to the Gaza Strip will likely take "up to 60 days" to complete, a Pentagon spokesperson said.

Speaking on Friday, the spokesperson added that the port will involve some 1,000 troops. Nevertheless, none of the troops would be deployed ashore, Pentagon spokesperson Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder said.

Once established, the new facility "could provide more than two million meals to the citizens of Gaza per day," Ryder said, adding that "there will be no US forces on the ground in Gaza" as part of the effort, in which Washington will be "working with regional partners."

US President Joe Biden announced the intention to build a temporary port during his State of the Union speech on Thursday.