Qatar: IDF Gaza bombing complicates talks to restore truce

Sides blame each other for ceasefire ending; Khan Younis, Rafah targeted by airstrikes

 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani attend a meeting in Lusail, Qatar, Friday Oct. 13, 2023 (photo credit: JACQUELYN MARTIN/POOL/REUTERS)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani attend a meeting in Lusail, Qatar, Friday Oct. 13, 2023

The IDF’s aerial bombing of Gaza has complicated mediation efforts to reach an agreement to restore a “pause” to the war in exchange for hostages release, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

“The Ministry stresses [that] the continued bombing of the Gaza Strip in the first hours after the end of the pause complicates mediation efforts and exacerbates the humanitarian catastrophe in the Strip,” the ministry said.

Qatar calls on the “international community to move quickly to stop the violence,” it said, as it underscored that efforts were ongoing to mediate a second truce that would include hostage releases.

It spoke up after a fragile temporary truce that had begun on the morning of November 24th, and which accompanied a hostage deal, fell apart at 7 a.m.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on Friday that  “our army is charging forward.”

 A screenshot of the alert map published by the IDF for Gaza civilians. (credit: screenshot)
A screenshot of the alert map published by the IDF for Gaza civilians. (credit: screenshot)

“We will continue to fight with all our strength until we achieve all our goals: the return of all our captives, the elimination of Hamas, and the promise that Gaza will never be a threat to Israel again,” he wrote in a post on X.

Herzog's meeting in the UAE

In the United Arab Emirates, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog held a series of meetings on the sidelines of the United Nations COP28 Climate Conference as part of his effort to help secure the return of some remaining 137 hostages held by Hamas.

He met with the Emir of Qatar His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and circulated a photograph of the two of them shaking hands. It is the first such public high level meeting between an Israeli and a Qatari official, given that Israel and Qatar do not have formal diplomatic relations.

Herzog also met President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and His Royal Highness King Charles III. In his meetings, Herzog emphasized the humanitarian duty of releasing the hostages and appealed to world leaders to join this effort. He also said it is Israel's "right and duty" to defend itself against the security threat posed by Hamas to bring safety back to Israel. 

Silva told Herzog that he had spoken with the leaders of South American nations and called on them to support the return of the hostages. All of the leaders condemned the act of terror committed by Hamas against the Israeli people.

The resumption of Israel’s military campaign to oust Hamas from Gaza, which had begun on October 7, marked an end to an emotional week in which Hamas released 81 Israeli captives in seven separate groups.

Why did the ceasefire end?

The deal was based on a formula of a release of at least 10 live hostages for every 24 hours of a lull in the war.

At 7 a.m., when Hamas failed to produce a list of live Israeli captives to be released, hostilities resumed. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s efforts to ensure the continuation of the pause during his visit to Israel on Thursday were unsuccessful.

It has been estimated that only about 100 of some 240 captives held by Hamas could have been freed under the existing deal, which saw the release of some 240 jailed Palestinian women and minors held on security-related offenses.

Israel accused Hamas of breaking the agreement by which Israel paused the Gaza War on November 24th.

Hamas “violated the deal” and did not live up to its duty to release all the female captives today,” the Prime Minister’s Office said, adding the terror group had also “launched rockets at the citizens of Israel.”

“With the resumption of the war, we emphasize that the Israeli government is committed to achieving the goals of the war.”

Hamas said Israel bore responsibility for the end of the truce, for rejecting terms to free more hostages and extend it.

"What Israel did not achieve during the fifty days before the truce, it will not achieve by continuing its aggression after the truce," Ezzat El Rashq, a member of the Hamas political bureau, said on the group's website.

The Kremlin on Friday said that it was continuing efforts to free Russian nationals held by Hamas in Gaza.

In a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that an extension of a week-long ceasefire between Israel and Hamas would have been more appropriate than Friday's resumption of fighting, given the scale of suffering in the territory.

It had secured the unilateral release of one Israeli with Russian citizenship during the last week and was able to ensure that at least two other dual-national women were freed under the contest of the existing deal.

Hamas also released one Filipino and 23 Thai citizens in a separate agreement.

It had always been pressured that a second and more complex hostage deal would have to be worked out because it was assumed that Hamas would demand a higher price for the male hostages, particularly those serving in the IDF.

Hamas seized some 240 Israelis hostage when it infiltrated Israel on October 7, killing over 1,200 people. Hamas has asserted that close to 15,000 Palestinians have been killed in violence related to the IDF’s military campaign against Gaza sparked by that attack.

Israel's warplanes pounded Gaza on Friday with eastern areas of Khan Younis in southern Gaza coming under intensive bombardment as the deadline lapsed shortly after dawn, with columns of smoke rising into the sky, Reuters journalists in the city said. Residents took to the road with belongings heaped up in carts, fleeing for shelter further west.

In the north of the enclave, previously the main war zone, huge plumes of smoke rose above the ruins, seen from across the fence in Israel. The rattle of gunfire and thud of explosions rang out above the sound of barking dogs.

Rocket sirens also blared across southern Israel as militants fired from the coastal enclave into towns.

Within hours of the truce expiring, Gaza health officials reported that 109 people had been killed and dozens wounded in air strikes that hit at least eight homes.

Medics and witnesses said the bombing was most intense in Khan Younis and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where hundreds of thousands of Gazans have been sheltering from fighting further north. Houses in central and northern areas were also hit.

"Anas, my son!" wailed the mother of Anas Anwar al-Masri, a boy lying on a stretcher with a head injury in the corridor of Nasser hospital in Khan Younis. "I don't have anyone but you!"

Further south in Rafah, residents carried several small children, streaked with blood and covered in dust, out of a house that had been struck. Mohammed Abu-Elneen, whose father owns the house, said it was sheltering people displaced from elsewhere.

At the nearby Abu Yousef al-Najjar hospital, the first wave of wounded were men and boys.

Gazans said they feared that the bombing of southern parts of the enclave could herald an expansion of the war into areas Israel had previously described as safe.

Leaflets dropped on eastern areas of the main southern city Khan Younis ordered residents of four towns to evacuate - not to other areas in Khan Younis as in the past, but further south to the crowded town of Rafah on the Egyptian border.

"You have to evacuate immediately and go to the shelters in the Rafah area. Khan Younis is a dangerous fighting zone. You have been warned," said the leaflets, written in Arabic.

Israel released a link to a map showing Gaza divided into hundreds of districts, which it said would be used in future to communicate which areas were safe.

The United Nations said the collapse of the ceasefire would worsen an extreme humanitarian emergency.

"Hell on Earth has returned to Gaza," said Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the U.N. humanitarian office in Geneva.

Israel's bombardment and ground invasion have laid waste to much of the territory. Palestinian health authorities deemed reliable by the United Nations say more than 15,000 Gazans have been confirmed killed and thousands more are missing and feared buried under rubble.

The United Nations says as many as 80% of Gaza's 2.3 million have been driven from their homes, with no way to escape the narrow territory, many sleeping rough in makeshift shelters.

Israel has imposed a total siege, and residents and humanitarian agencies say aid that arrived during the truce was trivial compared to the vast needs of so many displaced people.

Drivers at the crossing from Egypt said the resumption of fighting had halted the movement into Gaza of aid trucks, which go through a laborious process of Israeli inspections that had sped up during the truce.

"The bombardment has been going on since seven in the morning. There are planes and artillery and we haven't moved," said driver Saleh Ebada, who had already been waiting to enter the crossing for inspection for eight days.

Washington has said publicly that it was putting pressure on its ally Israel to better protect civilians once war resumed. Blinken, who had met Israeli and Palestinian officials on Thursday on his third trip to the region since the war began, had praised the truce and said Washington hoped it would be extended.

Reuters contributed to this report.