Gantz: New attempts at Gaza cease-fire underway

A Palestinian looks at the destruction after an Israeli strike on a residential building in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. AP Photo/Hatem Ali)
A Palestinian looks at the destruction after an Israeli strike on a residential building in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

New attempts are underway to reach a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas that could pause the war in Gaza, a member of Israel's War Cabinet said late Wednesday.

"Initial signs indicate a possibility of moving forward," said Benny Gantz, a former military chief and defense minister. "We will not stop looking for the way and we will not miss any opportunity to bring the girls and boys home," he added.

It's the first Israeli indication of renewed cease-fire talks since negotiations stalled a week ago.

However, Gantz repeated his pledge that unless Hamas agrees to release the remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza, Israel will launch a ground offensive into the crowded southern city of Rafah.

Gantz said Israel will evacuate the hundreds of thousands of civilians in Rafah before striking, but repeated his pledge that the offensive will take place during Ramadan if hostages are not released. Ramadan is expected to begin around March 10.

"I repeat -- if there is no outline for the (hostage) release, we will also operate during Ramadan," he said.

Israel's war in Gaza has driven some 80 percent of the population of 2.3 million from their homes. Most heeded Israeli orders to flee south and around 1.5 million are packed into Rafah near the border with Egypt.

WHO chief says he hasn't spoken directly to Netanyahu

The head of the World Health Organization says he hasn't spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a decade and will "probably" make contact now, at a time when Israel's military campaign in Gaza has devastated medical facilities there.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, when asked about his contact with Netanyahu in recent months, said he had not been in touch with the Israeli leader since he served as Ethiopia's foreign minister in 2014.

"So probably I will take that as a recommendation and make contact," Tedros told a WHO news conference on Wednesday, noting the organization's country office has been in contact with Israeli authorities.

Tedros has made repeated heartfelt statements on how Israel's war in Gaza has decimated the health sector. However, his comments Wednesday were the first time he publicly said he hasn't tried talking to Netanyahu about the how the war is being conducted.

Tedros, who led the U.N. health agency's response to the coronavirus pandemic, has over the years met with many world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping before the pandemic was declared, and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Hospitals in Gaza have repeatedly come under fire by Israel's military during the monthslong war. Israel has accused the militant group Hamas, which runs Gaza, of using medical facilities as cover for its operations.

WHO has listed a total of 754 "attacks on health care" -- including strikes that hit ambulances, medical facilities, health care workers and any other attacks that affect the provision of health care -- in occupied Palestinian areas since Oct. 7.

On Tuesday, WHO said 32 patients in critical condition had been transferred from Nasser Medical Complex in southern Gaza to other facilities in recent days, after the complex became "non-functional" following an Israeli siege and military raid.

"The health and humanitarian situation in Gaza is inhumane and continues to deteriorate," Tedros said in his opening remarks Wednesday.

Switzerland will ban Hamas

Switzerland will ban the Palestinian militant group Hamas, the government said Wednesday.

Under the ban, Swiss authorities can more easily apply preventative measures to deny entry or expel anyone suspected of affiliation with Hamas, and exchange information with foreign authorities more openly in cases of suspected terrorism financing linked to the group.

The Federal Council, Switzerland's seven-member executive branch, said the ban will affect Hamas and any potential successor organizations. The Swiss government already listed Hamas as a terror organization just days after the deadly Oct. 7 attacks in Israel.

Acts of support for Hamas could be punishable with penalties of up to 20 years in prison, depending on the level of influence in the group, the government said in a statement. However, the ban so far is limited to five years, but it can be extended by parliament.

Israeli lawmakers oppose unilateral recognition of Palestinian state

Israel's parliament has given overwhelming approval to a declaration expressing opposition to international efforts to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state.

Wednesday's vote, approved by 99 of 120 lawmakers, is not binding but reflects the widespread sentiment in Israel as it battles Hamas militants in Gaza for a fifth month. Only nine lawmakers voted against the measure.

"Israel outright rejects international edicts regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians. The settlement, to the extent that it is reached, will be solely through direct negotiations between the parties, without preconditions," it says.

Netanyahu's Cabinet adopted the declaration earlier in the week.

Netanyahu went on the offensive after media reports arose last week of a possible roadmap toward establishing a Palestinian state from the U.S. administration and Arab countries. The United States has also said Palestinian statehood is a key element in a broader vision for the normalization of relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia.

The international community overwhelmingly supports an independent Palestinian state as part of a future peace agreement. Netanyahu's government is filled with hard-liners who oppose Palestinian independence.

Group: Rape, sexual assault took place during Hamas attack

The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel says it found evidence of "systematic and intentional" rape and sexual abuse during the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 that ignited the war in Gaza.

The report said that "in some cases, rape was conducted in front of an audience, such as partners, family, or friends, to increase the pain and humiliation for all present."

Orit Sulitzeanu, the executive director of the association, says that in many cases, the bodies of male and female victims, including their genitals, were severely mutilated.

The report, published Wednesday, did not specify the number of cases it had documented or identify any victims, even anonymously. Sulitzeanu said such determinations were difficult because many of the victims were killed after being assaulted, and first responders were so overwhelmed by the scale of death and destruction that they did not document signs of sexual abuse.

The report's authors said they based their research on confidential and public interviews with officials and first responders, as well as media reports. Sulitzeanu said they also relied on "confidential sources" but declined to say whether they had spoken to victims.

An Associated Press investigation also found that sexual assault was part of an atrocity-filled rampage by Hamas and other militants who killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took around 250 hostages on Oct. 7. Hamas has rejected allegations that its gunmen committed sexual assault.

According to the Israeli report, which was submitted to the United Nations and U.N. investigators carrying out a similar investigation, the sexual and gender-based violence occurred in four main places -- the Nova music festival, communities near the Gaza border, Israeli military bases that were overrun by Hamas and places where hostages were held in Gaza.

Sulitzeanu says the purpose of the report was to document how the sexual violence was similar across multiple sites, indicating it was organized and directed by Hamas.

The association represents multiple rape crisis centers across Israel.

Airstrike kills woman, daughter in southern Lebanon

Lebanon's state-run National News Agency says an Israeli airstrike on a southern village has killed a woman and her daughter.

Wednesday's airstrike on the village of Majdal Zoun came after a series of strikes overnight, including one on Safi Mountain in the Hezbollah stronghold of Apple Province and another near the southern town of Khiam.

NNA identified the woman killed as Khadija Salman, 40. Security officials speaking on condition of anonymity, in line with regulations, identified her 7-year-old daughter, who later succumbed to her wounds, as Amal al-Dur.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah has been striking at Israeli posts along the border since the Israel-Hamas war broke out following the Oct. 7 attack by Palestinian militants on southern Israel.

More than 200 people, the vast majority of them Hezbollah fighters, have been killed in Lebanon since the latest round of violence broke out more than four months ago. The dead include more than 30 civilians.

Israeli strikes across Gaza kills 67 overnight

Israeli strikes across Gaza killed at least 67 Palestinians overnight and into Wednesday, including in areas where civilians have been told to seek refuge.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in Deir al-Balah says it received 44 bodies after multiple strikes in central Gaza. Associated Press reporters saw the bodies arriving in ambulances and private vehicles. Relatives held funeral prayers in the hospital courtyard early Wednesday.

An airstrike on a home in Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah killed a family of eight, according to Marwan al-Hams, the director of the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital. Nasser Abuel-Nour, a university professor; his wife, Nour, a human rights lawyer; their five children and grandchild were all killed in the strike.

Al-Hams says another two people were killed in a strike on a vehicle in Rafah. At least seven people were killed in strikes in the southern city of Khan Younis, the main focus of Israel's offensive in recent weeks, and another six were killed in Muwasi, an area Israel had declared a safe zone, the hospital said.

MSF: 2 killed where Palestinians were told to shelter

The aid group Doctors Without Borders says two people were killed when a shelter housing staff in the Gaza Strip was struck during an Israeli operation in an area where Palestinians have been told to seek shelter.

"While details are still emerging, ambulance crews have now reached the site, where at least two family members of our colleagues have been killed and six people wounded. We are horrified by what has taken place," the group said Wednesday in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The attack took place in Muwasi, a sandy, mostly undeveloped strip of land along the coast that has been transformed into a sprawling tent camp with little in the way of basic services.

Doctors Without Borders, known by the French acronym MSF, did not identify the source of fire. The Israeli military said it was looking into the reports.

Israel has continued to carry out strikes in all parts of the territory, and has vowed to expand its ground offensive to the southernmost city of Rafah, adjacent to Muwasi, where hundreds of thousands of people are sheltering.

photo Riyad Mansour, Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations, blows a kiss to someone before the start of Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
photo Gilad Erdan, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
photo Riyad Mansour, Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
photo Israeli female soldiers pose for a photo on a position on the Gaza Strip border, in southern Israel, Monday, Feb. 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
photo Israeli soldiers drive a tanks near the Gaza Strip border, in southern Israel, Monday, Feb. 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Upcoming Events