Gaza: Israeli forces surround hospitals as ceasefire talks reach critical stage

Hamas set to respond to US proposals on securing initial six-week pause in fighting that would see hostages released

With ceasefire talks at a critical stage, Israel expanded the fighting in Gaza over the weekend.

Israel is waiting for an answer for Hamas, expected three to four days, after reportedly responding positively to US bridging proposals on a new ceasefire and hostage release agreement that would see the release of some 40 hostages during an initial six-week truce.

A senior Israeli official claimed Israel demonstrated flexibility on two major issues in an effort to break the deadlock: the ratio of militants per hostage to be released from Israeli prisons and returning some northern Gazan residents to their homes.

On the ground the fighting intensified. According to Palestinian medical sources, Israeli forces have surrounded two hospitals in the southern city of Khan Younis, Al-Amal and Nasser, amid heavy air and ground fire. The Palestinian Red Crescent said one of its staff was killed as Israel demanded the complete evacuation of staff, patients and displaced people from the Al Amal compound as soldiers threw smoke bombs into the hospital.


Israel claimed Palestinian militants were using the hospitals to regroup in areas of Khan Younis where the Israeli military has left, similar to what happened in Gaza city’s main Al-Shifa hospital, where troops have been operating for the last week. Israel says it has killed 170 militants and detained almost 500 in and around Al-Shifa hospital.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, more than 32,200 Palestinians have been killed since the war began. Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 253 hostages seized in the surprise Hamas attack on October 7th with 134 hostages, dead and alive, remaining captive.

Two senior Israeli officials will travel to Washington in the coming days to discuss the Israeli plan to attack the southern Gaza city of Rafah on the Egyptian border, where more than a million refugees fled to escape the fighting. Ahead of their arrival, US vice-president Kamala Harris reiterated Washington’s opposition to an Israeli attack on Rafah.

“I studied the maps. The people there have nowhere to go. Entering Rafah would be a mistake,” she said, during an interview on ABC News on Sunday.

In the interview, Ms Harris stated that the Biden administration has made this clear to Israel “in every way possible”, stating that way too many Palestinians have already been killed. Asked if there would be consequences from the US to a Rafah operation, she responded: “I am ruling out nothing.”

Israel is expected to present plans to evacuate Rafah civilians to safe areas along the Mediterranean coast before any ground manoeuvre but it remains to be seen if this will satisfy the Americans.

The head of Unrwa, the United Nations refugee agency, said Israel has informed the UN that it will no longer approve Unrwa food convoys to the north of Gaza. “This is outrageous and makes it intentional to obstruct life-saving assistance during a man-made famine. These restrictions must be lifted,” Unrwa head Philippe Lazzarini said.

United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres said on Sunday that the only effective and efficient way to deliver heavy goods to meet Gaza’s humanitarian needs is by road, including an exponential increase in commercial deliveries. “The daily assault on the human dignity of Palestinians is creating a crisis of credibility for the international community,” he said.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem