UN chief calls for true humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza

UNITED NATIONS /JERUSALEM  -  The United Nations Secretary-Gen­eral warned Wednesday that the Gaza Strip is in the midst of an “epic humanitarian catastrophe”. 

António Guterres told a meeting of the UN Security Council that “in­tense negotiations” were taking place to prolong the current truce - but the UN believed in the need for a “ true humanitarian ceasefire”. 

Guterres went on to add that the level of aid to Palestinians in Gaza remained “completely inadequate” to meet the huge needs of more than two million people. 

“Much more is required to begin to address human needs in Gaza. Wa­ter and electricity services must be fully restored. Food systems have collapsed and anger is spreading, particularly in the north. He said children, pregnant women, older people and those with weakened immune systems were at greater risk - adding that 80% of Gaza’s peo­ple had been forced to leave their homes. Mediators scrambled to ex­tend a truce between Hamas and Is­rael on Wednesday as the militants prepared to release a last batch of hostages under the existing deal in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas took about 240 captives from southern Israel in an unprece­dented October 7 attack that Israeli officials say killed around 1,200 peo­ple. In response, Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas and has unleashed an air and ground campaign that the Hamas government says has killed nearly 15,000 people, also mostly ci­vilians. 

HAMAS EYES TRUCE EXTENSION

Hamas is willing to extend the truce by four days and release more Israeli hostages in exchange for Pal­estinian prisoners, a source close to the militant group said.

The current truce is scheduled to expire early Thursday after a two-day extension. Hamas “informed the mediators that it is willing to extend the truce for four days”, a source close to the militant group told AFP on condition of anonymity.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would work to ex­tend the truce when he visits Isra­el later this week. “Looking at the next couple of days, we’ll be focused on doing what we can to extend the pause so that we continue to get more hostages out and more human­itarian assistance in,” Blinken said af­ter a NATO meeting in Brussels.

HAMAS TO FREE MORE HOSTAGES

Israel’s government has received a list of the new hostages to be freed on Wednesday, Israeli media report­ed. There was no official confirma­tion. Israel has agreed to release three Palestinian prisoners for ev­ery hostage freed.

Separately, senior Hamas official Mussa Abu Marzuq said “several” Russian hostages would be released Wednesday in “appreciation for the stance of President (Vladimir) Pu­tin” on the Gaza war.

US WARNS ISRAEL ON SOUTH GAZA

US President Joe Biden has warned Israel that its expected offensive in southern Gaza must avoid the kind of mass displacement of civilians seen during the military’s pummel­ling of the territory’s north, US offi­cials said.

“It’s very important that the con­duct of the Israeli campaign when it moves to the south must be done in a way that is, to a maximum extent, not designed to produce significant further displacement of persons,” one US official said.

GAZA FAMINE FEARS

The population of Gaza, especial­ly women and children, risk fam­ine if humanitarian food supplies do not continue, the World Food Pro­gramme warned Tuesday.

The UN agency said it had deliv­ered food to 121,161 people in Gaza since Friday but added that six days was “not enough to make any mean­ingful impact”.

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