• Hamas says Israel must not inspect vehicles carrying the drugs
• Khan Yunis sees ‘the most difficult night’ since outbreak of hostilities
GAZA CITY:: Tel Aviv stepped up air strikes on Wednesday over the Gaza Strip’s south, where medicines were expected to be delivered for Israeli prisoners in exchange for humanitarian aid under a newly brokered deal.
But nearly 24 hours after the deal was announced on Tuesday night, a Hamas official set new conditions for providing the drugs, insisting Israel must not inspect the trucks carrying them.
Violence has also surged in the Israeli-occupied West Bank since Oct 7 to a level not seen since the second Palestinian uprising between 2000 and 2005.
Israeli army raids and attacks by settlers have killed around 350 people in the territory, according to a tally based on sources from both sides.
Air strikes and artillery fire targeted Khan Yunis throughout Tuesday night, according to eyewitnesses in the southern Gaza Strip’s biggest city.
“It was the most difficult and intense night in Khan Yunis since the start of the war,” said a spokesman for the health ministry, which reported 81 deaths across the Palestinian territory.
At least 24,448 Palestinians, about 70 per cent of them women, young children and adolescents, have been killed in Israeli bombardments and ground assaults, according to the ministry’s latest figures.
Hamas seized about 250 Israeli prisoners during the Oct 7 raids. Around 130 remain in Gaza and at least 27 are believed to have died.
The fate of those still in captivity has gripped Israeli society, while a broader humanitarian crisis in Gaza marked by the threat of famine and disease has fuelled international calls for a ceasefire.
Medicine for prisoners
An agreement, announced by Qatar on Tuesday following French and Qatari mediation, will allow medicines to reach the Israeli prisoners and aid to enter the besieged Palestinian territory.
The International Committee of the Red Cross welcomed the deal, under which 45 prisoners are expected to receive medication in “a much-needed moment of relief”.
A security source in Egypt said a Qatari plane carrying medicines had arrived at El Arish, near the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, on Wednesday.
France said the drugs would be sent to a hospital in Rafah, given to the Red Cross and divided into batches before being transferred to the prisoners.
A top Hamas official announced new conditions for the deal, however.
Writing on X, Musa Abu Marzuk demanded 1,000 boxes of aid for Gaza for every one going to the prisoners and that a country Hamas trusts, not France, supply the medicine.
‘Why are they doing this?’
At the Abu Yussef Al Najjar hospital in Rafah, Palestinians stood in front of bodies wrapped in shrouds, mourning the loss of loved ones killed in an overnight Israeli strike.
“Why are they doing this? They are destroying us,” Umm Muhammad Abu Odeh, a woman displaced from the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun, said.
The Israelis “told us to go south, and we came here… but there is no safe place in Gaza”.
The United Nations says the Israeli bombardment had displaced 85 per cent of Gaza’s 2.4 million people, many of whom have been forced to crowd into shelters and struggle to get food, water, fuel and medical care.
The Israeli public has kept up intense pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to bring back the prisoners, with officials insisting military pressure is necessary to strike any deal.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli strikes since Tueday night had killed nine people in the occupied territory.
Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2024