Gaza’s health ministry said IOF tanks surrounded the Al Rantissi Hospital from all directions, with thousands of patients, medical staff and displaced people trapped.
Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met in Cairo on Friday to discuss joint de-escalation efforts in Gaza, as Israeli forces further advanced into the Strip, forcing millions to the south.
The meeting came as both countries navigate through the unprecedented Israeli war on Gaza that has ravaged the besieged enclave for just over one month. Israeli occupation forces (IOF) have killed at least 10,812 Palestinians, including 4,412 children, since the beginning of the war on October 7.
Sheikh Tamim’s trip to Egypt came less than 24 hours after the Qatari leader made a stopover in the United Arab Emirates where he met President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The agenda was also centred on the war on Gaza.
The Qatari leader departed Cairo following the meeting and headed towards Saudi Arabia for an “emergency” Arab League summit on Gaza, that was announced just over a week ago.
In Cairo, Sheikh Tamim and President Sisi “exchanged views” on the developments on the ground in Palestine, especially in Gaza, as per an Amiri Diwan statement on the matter.
The leaders also discussed “joint efforts to stop the aggression against Gaza and reduce the escalation and the entry of urgent humanitarian aid, ensuring the safety of civilians and contributing to reducing tensions in the region.”
“The two sides affirmed their firm and continuous support for the Palestinian cause and the legitimate rights of the brotherly Palestinian people, especially their right to establish an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, on the basis of the two-state solution,” the statement added.
Sheikh Tamim and Sisi also renewed “their condemnation of all violations of the Palestinian people, their lands, and their sanctities that undermine reaching a just solution.”
In a post on X, Sheikh Tamim said: My discussions with my brother Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi come at a crucial stage in the development of the situation in Gaza due to Israel’s brutal aggression and blatant violation of international humanitarian law, which does not serve the achievement of lasting and comprehensive peace in the region.
“All parties are required to intensify efforts to stop this war and alleviate the suffering of our Palestinian brothers,” the post added.
Both countries have long played key mediation roles that have successfully ended previous Israeli bombardments of Gaza. However, the current situation on the ground has exceeded mere escalations and morphed into a full-scale war, the deadliest to strike Gaza in years.
Meanwhile, sources told Reuters and Axios this week that Qatari, Egyptian and American mediators are working to release 10-to-15 captives in exchange for a one-to-three day ceasefire.
“The exact number is still unclear at this stage,” the source, who requested to remain anonymous, told the news agency.
Hamas’ political leader Ismail Haniyeh was also in Egypt on Thursday where he met with Gen. Abbas Kamel, the chief of the General Egyptian Intelligence Service, to discuss developments in Gaza.
Captives’ release mediation
Qatar, the host of a Hamas political bureau, has been playing a central diplomatic role since the beginning of the latest Israeli aggression in an effort to secure a ceasefire and release civilian captives in Hamas custody.
Last week, Israel confirmed that Hamas has 242 captives in Gaza, all of whom were captured during the October 7 operation, ‘Operation Al Aqsa Flood’. Carried out by the Al-Qassam Brigades—Hamas’ armed wing—the operation marked the biggest Palestinian attack on Israel and resulted in the killing of some 1,400 Israelis.
Hamas managed to break out of the besieged Gaza Strip and infiltrated occupied territories through air, land and sea for the first time in years.
The Palestinian group said the operation was a response to Israel’s intensified raids on holy sites in Jerusalem in recent months, as well as its decades-long crippling occupation of Palestinian land.
However, Israel has since used the operation as the pretext for its brutal onslaught in Gaza.
Hamas says around 60 captives held in Gaza have also been killed in the Israeli bombardment. At least two other captives were killed by the Israeli aggression on Thursday, as per a Hamas statement.
So far, Qatar has managed to release four captives from Hamas though negotiations have stalled due to intensified Israeli bombardment in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, Hamas said it was close to releasing 12 additional foreign captives from Gaza but blamed Israel of obstructing the process with its ongoing bombardment.
Then on Thursday, Al-Qassam issued two videos of captives—a 77-year-old woman and a 13-year-old boy—and confirmed it was willing to release both of them on humanitarian grounds on the condition that Israel meets “appropriate measures”.
In a scramble to secure the release of more captives, the United States sent CIA Director William Burns to Qatar on Thursday, who was on a regional tour that included Tel Aviv.
The top US intelligence official reportedly met with Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, an anonymous official confirmed to the Associated Press.
On the same day, the White House announced a daily four-hour pause in fighting in northern Gaza to enable Palestinians to flee the area.
“We’ve been told by the Israelis that there will be no military operations in these areas over the duration of the pause, and that this process is starting today,” US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby.
Kirby reiterated his country’s rejection to a full ceasefire in Gaza as it would “legitimise” Hamas’ operation of October 7.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden was asked about frustrations over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s delays in implementing a “humanitarian pause”. Biden responded to the question by saying: “It’s taken a little longer than I hoped.”
The Biden administration is currently facing mounting pressure internally and globally for actively backing Israel in its onslaught against Gaza’s 2.3 million population.
Last week, the US House passed a Republican bill to provide Israel with $14bn in aid to bolster Israel’s military capabilities.
It includes $4 billion to boost Israel’s Iron Dome, David’s Sling missile defence systems as well as military equipment transferred from US stocks, Al Jazeera reported at the time.
The occupying state is already getting $3.8 billion per year in military assistance and has received aid from the US worth more than $124 billion since its establishment following the Second World War.
The Biden administration has received warnings from US diplomats in the Arab region that slammed its support for Israel’s operations, CNN reported on Friday, citing a copy of the letter. The diplomats warned the US that it “is losing us Arab publics for a generation.”
“We are losing badly on the messaging battlespace,” the envoys said.
Israel encircles Gaza hospital
Israel has intensified its bombardment of Gaza and its targeting of hospitals, where tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians have been taking shelter or receiving treatment.
The IOF has long claimed that Hamas fighters have been hiding in tunnels under the medical facilities, a claim that has been rejected by the group and debunked by multiple independent investigations.
On Thursday night, Israel heavily bombarded the Indonesian Hospital and the Al Shifa Hospital, the largest in the Strip. Reporters on the ground revealed that the IOF attacked Al Shifa’s compound using a drone plane ReaperMQ.9 that carried Rocket R9X.
The weapon does not explode but rather carries blades that are strong enough to cut limbs and organs of victims.
The Israeli attacks continued the next morning and targeted Al Shifa’s outpatient clinic where thousands were taking shelter. Disturbing footage showed lifeless bodies strewn across the floor, many of which were limbless due to the force of the weapons used.
On Friday morning, Israeli tanks encircled the Al Rantisi hospital complex in Gaza city, marking an alarming development in the month-long war. Gaza’s health ministry said the tanks surrounded the hospital from all directions, with thousands of patients, medical staff and displaced people trapped.
Palestinians inside the hospital posted videos on social media to warn that they are now stranded in the medical structure. One man said they even received an evacuation warning without the presence of international protection from the Red Cross or the United Nations.
“The area is cordoned off by Israeli tanks from all directions. We were given a warning to evacuate, but there is no representatives from the Red Cross or any organisation that may guarantee the safety of all patients and civilians here. Hundreds are trapped inside the hospital,” one woman said in a social media video from inside the hospital.
Palestinian resistance fighters have been attempting to foil IOF’s attempts to invade Gaza for weeks. On Tuesday, Al Qassam’s spokesman Abu Obeida confirmed the group has destroyed 136 Israeli military vehicles since Israel’s ground operation started in Gaza.
“We have documented the destruction of 136 Israeli military vehicles, either completely or partially, since the start of the Israeli ground operation,” he said.