A Palestinian rides a donkey-pulled cart past a rubbish dump in Gaza City on May 3, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. Image Credit: AFP

Gaza Strip: Hamas said it was considering in a “positive spirit” a proposed truce and hostage release deal with Israel as the bloodiest ever Gaza war claimed more lives on Friday.

Nearly seven months of war have devastated the Palestinian coastal territory, which the United Nations said would require a rebuilding effort on a scale not seen since World War II.

After months of stop-start negotiations, Qatar-based Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said the group would “soon” send a delegation back to Egypt for ceasefire discussions, aiming for a deal that “realises the demands of our people”.

Haniyeh told Egyptian and Qatari mediators in calls on Thursday that Hamas was studying the latest proposal from Israel with a “positive spirit”.

After a meeting in Cairo last weekend, the Hamas delegation had returned to Qatar to discuss the proposal.

The war began with Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 34,596 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Houses destroyed

Gaza’s Civil Defence agency and medics said the toll rose overnight when Israeli warplanes struck a neighbourhood in Rafah, southern Gaza, killing six people in a family house.

“It’s enough, enough... They must pressure both parties” for a ceasefire, said Bassam Al Hafi whose Rafah neighbourhood was struck.

A Palestinian child transporting pieces of wood walks past a building destroyed by Israeli bombardment in Gaza City on May 3, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. Image Credit: AFP

The destruction there adds to the 72 per cent of Gaza’s residential buildings which a UN report on Thursday said have been completely or partially destroyed.

“The scale of the destruction is huge and unprecedented... this is a mission that the global community has not dealt with since World War II,” said Abdallah Al Dardari, the UN Development Programme’s Regional Director for Arab States.

The only truce that mediators have reached so far was a week-long deal in November that saw the release of 80 Israeli hostages for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Israel estimates that 129 of the captives seized by the militants during their October attack remain in Gaza, while the army says 35 of them are dead.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces regular protests demanding a deal to bring home the hostages.

He leads a fragile coalition which includes religious and ultra-nationalist parties. Demonstrators accuse Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges he denies, of seeking to prolong the war.

Israel’s government said it had confirmed the death of another Gaza captive, 49-year-old Dror Or.

Campaign group the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said Or’s death emphasises the need to secure the freedom of all captives and to bring home the remains of those killed.

It called on the government to “exhaust every effort to bring Dror and... the other murdered hostages back for honourable burials in Israel”.

Worldwide protests

Israeli soldiers have rounded up hundreds of Gazans during the war, holding them without charge before releasing some in groups.

On Thursday Palestinian advocacy groups said Dr Adnan Ahmed Atiya Al Barsh, 50, head of orthopaedics at Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital, had died in Israeli custody.

They alleged he had been tortured after his arrest with other doctors in December.

“His body is still being held,” the groups said.

Contacted by AFP about the accusation, Israel’s army said: “We are currently not aware of such (an) incident.”

Hamas has demanded a permanent ceasefire to end the war and the withdrawal of troops, which Israel has refused.

With or without a truce, Netanyahu says, he will send ground troops into Rafah, where humanitarian aid groups estimate 1.3 million Palestinians are sheltering.

The truce offer includes a 40-day halt to fighting and the exchange of Israeli hostages for potentially thousands of Palestinian prisoners, according to details released by Britain.

Prior to Haniyeh’s comments, a senior Hamas official had told AFP late Wednesday that the Palestinian Islamist movement’s position on the truce proposal was “negative” for the moment.

An Israeli official early this week told AFP the government “will wait for answers until Wednesday night”, and then “make a decision” whether to send envoys to Cairo to nail down a deal.

The humanitarian crisis and rising death toll in Gaza have prompted pro-Palestinian demonstrations around the world. They began at campuses in the United States and have spread to countries including France and Mexico.

Demonstrators have gathered on at least 40 US campuses, often erecting tent camps.

University administrators have been left with the challenge of trying to balance free speech rights with complaints of criminal activity and hate speech.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog charged that the US universities had been “contaminated by hatred and anti-Semitism”.

‘Left hungry’

Turkey on Thursday announced it was suspending trade until Israel allows humanitarian aid to enter Gaza “uninterrupted”, a day after Colombia severed diplomatic ties with Israel.

After an Israeli drone strike in early April killed seven workers from a US-based charity, World Central Kitchen, US President Joe Biden suggested to Netanyahu, for the first time, that continued American support could be conditional on protection and aid for civilians.

Israel has since allowed increased aid deliveries. It said the Erez crossing in north Gaza has reopened for aid entry, and assistance has arrived via the Israeli port of Ashdod.

World Central Kitchen resumed delivering food to starving Gazans this week.

“We realised after the kitchen closed that many mouths were left hungry,” kitchen manager Zakria Yahya Abukuwaik said, preparing food in Rafah.

While soldiers fight on the ground in Gaza, Israel has also faced a significant increase in cyberattacks from its arch foe Iran and its allies, said Aviram Atzaba, the Israeli National Cyber Directorate’s head of international cooperation.

“They are trying to hack everything they can,” he said, pointing to Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement. He added that so far “they have not succeeded in causing any real damage”.