Israel presses onslaught in Gaza’s Khan Younis as US pursues ceasefire quest


GAZA: An Israeli air strike on an apartment in southern Gaza killed six people on Tuesday (Feb 6), Palestinian health officials said, as the top US diplomat arrived in Egypt to pursue a quest for a truce deal in the shattering four-month-old war.

Israel said its forces had killed dozens of Palestinian gunmen throughout Gaza in the past 24 hours with fighting focused on Khan Younis in the south and a threatened assault looming on a nearby border town teeming with displaced people.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Egypt for talks after a stop in Saudi Arabia during his latest trouble-shooting Middle East swing that Palestinians hope will nail down a ceasefire before Israeli forces storm Gaza’s southern fringes where over a million of Gaza’s people are sheltering.

It was Blinken’s fifth trip to the region since Hamas militants’ lightning attack on Israel from Gaza on Oct 7 triggered the war, and his first visit since Washington brokered an offer, with Israeli input, for the first extended ceasefire of the conflict. Hamas says it is still weighing the proposal.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Blinken and Saudi Arabia’s ruling crown prince discussed regional steps to achieve an enduring end to the war, tackling the humanitarian disaster in Gaza and limiting regional spillovers of the crisis.

Blinken departed Riyadh just after sunrise and arrived in Cairo where he began talks with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. He is then due to fly on to Qatar and Israel.

Washington has for weeks sought an elusive deal to secure the release of remaining hostages among those Hamas kidnapped in its Oct 7 assault, as key to making headway on broader challenges such as the governance of post-war Gaza.

The ceasefire offer, delivered to Hamas last week by Qatari and Egyptian mediators, awaits a reply from militants who say they want more guarantees it will stop Israel’s blitz on Gaza, against Israeli vows to keep fighting until Hamas is wiped out.

Washington also aims to prevent further escalation elsewhere in the Middle East, after days of US airstrikes on armed proxies of Iran, a major backer of Hamas, and further attacks on Red Sea shipping by Yemen’s Tehran-aligned Houthi militia.

In an update on Tuesday, Gaza’s Health Ministry said at least 27,585 Palestinians had been confirmed killed in Israel’s military campaign, with thousands more feared buried under vast tracts of rubble across the densely populated enclave. Some 107 had been killed in the past 24 hours, the ministry said.

Israel says 226 of its soldiers have been killed in its offensive, launched after militants from Hamas-ruled Gaza burst through the border fence and killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages in a rampage through nearby Israeli communities.



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