Gaza Health Ministry: Over 29,000 Palestinians killed in Israel-Hamas war

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli attack on Gaza has killed more than 29,000 Palestinians since October 7, the territory’s health ministry said Monday, marking another grim milestone in one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the offensive until a “total victory” over Hamas following the militants’ attack on Israeli communities on October 7. He and the military have said troops will move in soon the southernmost city of Rafah on the Egyptian border, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have sought refuge from fighting elsewhere.

The United States, Israel’s main ally, says it is still working with mediators Egypt and Qatar to try to broker a new ceasefire and hostage release deal. But those efforts seems to have come to a standstill in recent daysand Netanyahu angered Qatar by calling on the country to put pressure on Hamas and suggesting it would finance the militant group.

The conflict has also led to almost daily firefights between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which often threaten to escalate.

Israeli warplanes carried out at least two strikes near the southern port city of Sidon on Monday, one of the largest attacks near a major city, Lebanese state media said. There was no immediate word on the victims. The Israeli military said it attacked Hezbollah weapons depots near Sidon in retaliation for a drone that exploded earlier Monday in an open field near the northern Israeli city of Tiberias.

In Gaza, the Health Ministry said the death toll had risen to 29,092 since the start of the war, about two-thirds of whom were women and children. More than 69,000 Palestinians have been injured, overwhelming the area’s hospitals, with less than half of them even partially functioning.

The ministry makes no distinction between civilians and combatants during the count. The Ministry of Health is part of the Hamas-led government in Gaza, but keeps detailed records of its victims. The figures from previous wars in Gaza are largely consistent with those provided by UN agencies, independent experts and Israel’s own figures.

The war began when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel from Gaza on October 7, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians. in which approximately 250 men, women and children were taken hostage. After a round of exchanges for Palestinians jailed by Israel in November, about 130 remain in custody, a quarter of whom are believed dead.

The Israeli army released a video on Monday showing what is believed to be the youngest hostage. His brother and mother are led through the streets of the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza shortly after their abduction on October 7.

The video provides evidence that Shiri Bibas and her two young boys, Ariel, 4, and Kfir, who was 9 months old at the time, survived the first kidnapping. The boys are the only children who remain in captivity with their mother.

Vice Adm. Daniel Hagari, the military’s chief spokesman, said the military is “very concerned” about the family’s well-being. He said the military found the videos in security cameras seized during the offensive in Khan Younis.

The video appears to show Bibas, wrapped in a blanket, being led down a dirt street by her captors while carrying Ariel. The military said it believed Kfir was in a sling and could not be seen under the blanket.

The child with red hair and a toothless smile has become a symbol across Israel of the helplessness and anger over the hostages still held in Gaza. Their father, Yarden Bibas, is also still in captivity.

In a statement, the extended Bibas family said the videos are “tearing our hearts out.” They made a desperate plea for negotiations to release all hostages. In January, the family and hundreds of activists arrived marked Kfir’s first anniversary at what his family called “the world’s saddest birthday party.”

With thousands of Palestinians detained by Israel since the start of the war, an Israeli human rights organization reported that Palestinians in Israeli prisons face daily violence from guards, who enter cells and beat prisoners with clubs, kicks and fists without any provocation. torture. Doctors for Human Rights-Israel said in a report on Monday that detainees reported guards urinating on them and forcing them to kiss the Israeli flag and undress. Prisoners are also held in overcrowded cells and deprived of water for extended periods of time, the report said.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about hundreds of Palestinian women and girls in Israeli detention. According to the report, there are credible reports that at least two were raped and others were “subjected to multiple forms of sexual assault”, including being stripped naked and searched by male officers and photographed “under humiliating conditions”.

Israel says it has killed more than 10,000 Palestinian militants but has provided no evidence for its count. The military says it is trying to prevent harm to civilians and blames Hamas for the high death toll because the militant group fights in densely populated residential areas. The army says 236 of its soldiers have been killed since the ground offensive began in late October.

On Sunday, Benny Gantz, a member of Netanyahu’s three-member war cabinet, warned that the offensive would spread to Rafah if the hostages were not released by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, expected around March 10.

Israel has said it is developing plans to evacuate civilians from Rafah, but it is not clear where they will go in the devastated area. large parts of which are flattened. Egypt has closed the border and warned against any mass influx of Palestinians could jeopardize the decades-old peace treaty with Israel.

The war has already and has driven about 80% of Gaza’s Palestinians from their homes left a quarter of the population to starveUN officials said.

The United States says it is still pushing for a ceasefire and the release of hostages it would veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire as it goes against these efforts.

Hamas has said it will not release all remaining hostages until Israel ends the war and withdraws from Gaza. The country is also demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including top militants.

Netanyahu does rejected those demands. In a speech to American Jewish leaders on Sunday, he said pressure must be kept on Qatar played a key role in mediating last year’s ceasefire and hostage release.

“Qatar can put pressure on Hamas like no one else can. They shelter Hamas leaders, Hamas is financially dependent on them,” Netanyahu said. “I urge you to put pressure on Qatar to put pressure on Hamas because we want our hostages to be released.”

Majed al-Ansari, spokesman for Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, dismissed Netanyahu’s comments as “a new attempt to delay and prolong the war for reasons that have become clear to everyone,” referring to the statements of the Israeli leader. domestic political problems.

Qatar denies financing Hamas and says its aid to Gaza was carried out in recent years in full coordination with Israel, the US and other parties.

“The Israeli Prime Minister knows very well that Qatar has been committed from day one to mediation efforts, ending the crisis and freeing the hostages,” al-Ansari said.

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Magdy reported from Cairo

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Find more of AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

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