Israel kills scores of Palestinians in Gaza as Paris negotiations continue

Gaza - More than 100 people were reported killed early Saturday in overnight strikes across Gaza, as Israel's spy chief was in Paris for talks seeking to "unblock" progress towards a temporary truce and the return of Israeli hostages.

A Palestinian girl eats a piece of bread following overnight Israeli air strikes on the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip.
A Palestinian girl eats a piece of bread following overnight Israeli air strikes on the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip.  © MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

The Paris negotiations come after a plan for Gaza's future unveiled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew criticism from key ally the United States and was rejected by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on Friday.

They also come as fears for civilians in the territory are deepening, with the UN warning of the growing risk of famine and its main aid body for Palestinians, UNWRA, saying early Saturday that Gazans were "in extreme peril while the world watches on."

AFP footage showed distraught Gazans queuing for food in the territory's devastated north on Friday and staging a protest decrying their living conditions.

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"Look, we are fighting each other over rice," said Jabalia resident Ahmad Atef Safi. "Where are we supposed to go?"

"We have no water, no flour and we are very tired because of hunger. Our backs and eyes hurt because of fire and smoke," fellow Jabalia resident Oum Wajdi Salha told AFP.

"We can't stand on our feet because of hunger and lack of food."

In a Friday night statement on social media platform X, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said: "Without adequate food and water supplies, as well as health and nutrition services, the elevated risk of famine in #Gaza is projected to increase."

Israel wants "indefinite freedom" to attack Gaza

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to retain "indefinite freedom" to operate throughout Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to retain "indefinite freedom" to operate throughout Gaza.  © REUTERS

An Israeli air strike Friday destroyed the Gaza home of well-known Palestinian comedian Mahmoud Zuaiter, killing at least 23 people and injuring dozens more, the health ministry said.

The ministry announced early Saturday that at least 103 more people were killed in strikes overnight, with many others believed to be missing under rubble, with a total of 29,606 people killed since October.

Netanyahu on Thursday night presented his war cabinet with a plan for the Gaza Strip that envisages civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.

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The plan stipulates that, even after the current prolonged assault, the Israeli army would have "indefinite freedom" to operate throughout Gaza with the stated aim of preventing any resurgence of terror activity, according to the proposals.

It also states that Israel will move ahead with a plan, already under way, to establish a "security" buffer zone inside Gaza along the territory's border.

The plan drew criticism from the United States, with National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby saying Friday that Washington had been "consistently clear with our Israeli counterparts" about what was needed in Gaza after Israel's assault ends.

"The Palestinian people should have a voice and a vote... through a revitalized Palestinian Authority," he said, adding the United States also did not "believe in a reduction of the size of Gaza."

Asked about the plan during a visit to Argentina, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would "reserve judgement" until seeing all the details, but that Washington was against any "reoccupation" of Gaza.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan dismissed Netanyahu's plan as unworkable.

"When it comes to the day after in the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu is presenting ideas which he knows fully well will never succeed," Hamdan told reporters in Beirut.

Paris negotiations for temporary truce continue

David Barnea, head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, is leading a delegation in Paris as negotiations continue for a temporary pause to the attacks.
David Barnea, head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, is leading a delegation in Paris as negotiations continue for a temporary pause to the attacks.  © GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP

Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation led by David Barnea, head of the Mossad intelligence agency, was in Paris on Saturday for a fresh push towards a deal to return the remaining hostages held by Hamas.

Barnea will be joined by his counterpart at the domestic Shin Bet security agency, Ronen Bar, Israeli media reported.

The United States, Egypt, and Qatar have all been deeply involved in past negotiations aimed at securing a temporary truce and prisoner-hostage exchanges.

Pressure has been mounting on Netanyahu's government to negotiate a lasting ceasefire and secure the hostages' release after more than four months of brutal attacks, with a group representing the captives' families planning what it billed as a "huge rally" to coincide with the Paris talks on Saturday night to demand swifter action.

White House envoy Brett McGurk held talks this week with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, after speaking to other mediators in Cairo who had met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.

A Hamas source said the new plan proposes a six-week pause in the conflict and the release of between 200 and 300 Palestinian political prisoners in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages being held by Hamas.

Barnea and his US counterpart from the CIA helped broker a week-long truce in November that saw the release of 80 Israeli hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

US National Security Council spokesperson Kirby had told journalists earlier that so far the discussions were "going well," while Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz spoke of "the first signs that indicate the possibility of progress."

Cover photo: MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

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