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Heavy fighting in Gaza City

There is heavy fighting again in Gaza City, which could jeopardize the upcoming talks on the release of hostages. At least that is what Hamas foreign chief Haniyya threatened. Israel, on the other hand, is continuing to apply pressure

Bettina Meier

Fighting in northern Gaza between the Israeli army and Hamas terrorists is flaring up again. Eyewitnesses report how tanks are advancing ever deeper into various districts of Gaza City.

The fighting is said to be particularly fierce in the eastern district of Shedjaja. In the rubble canyons in the western district of Rimal, Muhammad Bisan puts his three children on a donkey cart full of belongings. They just want to get away, but they don't know where to.

“It was indescribable,” he says, “planes and artillery fired from all directions at night, including drones. We didn't know where to run – right or left.”

Population is desperate

Abdullah Khammash, another resident, is trying to comply with the Israeli army's renewed evacuation order, which called on residents in central Gaza City neighborhoods to flee to an area in the middle of the coastal strip.

The UN condemned the call to flee to areas that are completely overcrowded and where “civilians are being killed and injured”.

Local resident Khammasch is at a loss: “Where should we go? The Israeli army says we should leave this area and go somewhere else. But that's where they come from.” At three in the morning they ran behind their neighbor's house and slept on the street. “We sleep in the rubble. Just bury us alive and put an end to this.”

Hamas sees negotiations at risk

The renewed advance in Gaza City also prompted Hamas' foreign affairs chief, Ismail Haniyeh, to react. He told the negotiators of the upcoming talks on the release of the hostages that the army's renewed advance in Gaza City could set the negotiations back to square one. Benjamin Netanyahu bears responsibility for this, it was said in a statement.

The Israeli Prime Minister recently outlined his red lines for the talks. Armed fighters should not be allowed back into northern Gaza. The smuggling of weapons from Egypt via the so-called Philadelphia Corridor must also be stopped.

This could be a sticking point in the negotiations, Israeli television reported: “The head of the secret service is currently meeting with the American and Egyptian mediators,” says journalist Suleiman Maswadeh, who is following the negotiations. “Points will be discussed there that are intended to advance an agreement with Hamas: the withdrawal of Israeli troops, both from the Rafah border crossing and from the Philadelphia Corridor.

In order to release the hostages, Israel and the army would have to give up both the Rafah border crossing and the Philadelphia Corridor and hand over civilian control to Egypt, Maswadeh continued.

Talks remain strictly confidential

What is really being discussed behind the scenes is top secret. At the start of the talks with negotiators and conflict parties in Cairo and Doha, the communications director of the National Security Council in the White House, John Kirby, warned: “You are seeing comments on both sides that do not express what we are really discussing behind closed doors.”

So far, the fronts appear to have hardened further. “Any agreement will allow Israel to resume fighting until all war aims are achieved,” said the office of the Israeli prime minister, who is accused of blocking an agreement. Netanyahu is “putting additional obstacles in the way of negotiations,” said a statement from Hamas. The mediators now want to try to bridge the contentious points.

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