Israeli Airstrikes Hit Lebanon

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Israel said Wednesday it carried out airstrikes targeting Hezbollah weapons sites in southern Lebanon, and that it intercepted several rockets fired from Lebanon toward Israel.

The Israeli military also reported fresh airstrikes on the Khan Younis area in southern Gaza, as well as ground operations in that area and in northern Gaza.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza reported Wednesday at least 76 more people killed in Israel’s campaign. At least 29,954 people have been killed since the war began in October, with another 70,325 injured.

Israel, Hamas and Qatari mediators on Tuesday all played down a suggestion by U.S. President Joe Biden that a new deal for a cease-fire and hostage release in the five-month Israel war with Hamas militants could be reached soon.

Hamas is considering a proposal, agreed to by Israel at talks with mediators in Paris last week, for a cease-fire that would suspend fighting for 40 days during Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, which would be the first extended truce in the war.

Both sides have delegations in Qatar this week trying to work out details. But Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari said, “We don’t have a final agreement on any of the issues that are hampering reaching an agreement. We remain hopeful that we can get to some kind of agreement.”

One Hamas official told Reuters that there were “still big gaps to be bridged. The primary and main issues of the cease-fire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces are not clearly stated, which delays reaching an agreement.”

Israel did not comment directly on Biden’s optimism for a cease-fire, but government spokeswoman Tal Heinrich said any deal would still require Hamas to drop “outlandish demands, in another orbit, another planet.”

“We are willing. But the question remains whether Hamas are willing,” she said.

Biden told reporters Monday that he hoped there would be a cease-fire by March 4. He also told comedian Seth Meyers on his late-night show on the NBC television network, “Ramadan is coming up [March 10], and there’s been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan, as well, in order to give us time to get all the [100 or so] hostages out.”

According to one source close to the talks, the Paris proposal would see Hamas free some but not all of the hostages they are holding, in return for the release of hundreds of Palestinians jailed by Israel, a surge in humanitarian aid for famished Palestinians in Gaza and Israeli troops pulling out of populated areas in the enclave along the Mediterranean Sea coastline.

But the deal apparently does not cover Hamas’ main demand for a permanent end to the war and an Israeli troop withdrawal. Nor does it resolve the fate of fighting-age Israeli men among the hostages.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in recent days that a temporary cease-fire would not change Israel’s plans to eventually carry out an offensive in the southern town of Rafah to achieve Israel’s goal of eliminating Hamas.

Prospects of a Rafah operation have raised international alarms because of the large number of Palestinians who are living there, many of them after fleeing other parts of Gaza in search of safety.

Israeli officials have mentioned evacuating civilians from Rafah, but they have not given any details about where the Palestinians might be able to go. Egypt, which borders Rafah, has said it will not open its borders. Much of Gaza has been leveled during Israel’s massive counteroffensive after the October 7 Hamas terror attack killed 1,200 people in Israel.

The United Nations has expressed concern about any plan to move the civilian population from southern Gaza and about Israeli plans to launch an offensive in the area populated by people already in need of humanitarian aid.

Hamas captured about 250 hostages in its October attack. About 100 hostages were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November. The Israeli military says it believes about 30 hostages held by Hamas have subsequently died or been killed in Gaza.

VOA

The VOA is the Voice of America

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