ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Qatar says talks for fresh Gaza pause ongoing, chides Israel for rejecting ceasefire

Qatari PM tells Doha Forum chances for deal growing slimmer due to Israeli strikes; UN chief complains Security Council undermined by US veto on ceasefire resolution

Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani addresses the opening session of the Doha Forum in the Qatari capital on December 10, 2023. (Salim Matramkot/AFP)
Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani addresses the opening session of the Doha Forum in the Qatari capital on December 10, 2023. (Salim Matramkot/AFP)

Mediation efforts to secure a new Gaza ceasefire and free more hostages held by Hamas are continuing, Qatar’s prime minister said Sunday, while blaming Israeli strikes for hampering chances for a successful outcome.

Qatar was a key intermediary in securing a weeklong truce late last month that saw 80 Israeli hostages freed from Gazan captivity in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, along with 25 others in separate deals, alongside a break in fighting and increased humanitarian aid to Gaza. Qatar has also long been a key funder of Hamas and hosts some of its leaders.

The truce ended when the Hamas terror group refused to fulfill its commitment to release a group of female abductees and fired rockets toward Israel, but Doha and others in the international community have continued to push for a renewed pause in fighting or a permanent ceasefire, and the release of the estimated 138 remaining hostages.

“Our efforts as the state of Qatar along with our partners are continuing. We are not going to give up,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told the Doha Forum Sunday.

But he added that “the continuation of the bombardment is just narrowing this window for us.”

Israel declared war on Hamas after the terror group stormed into southern Israel, invading communities and killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, on October 7. The group took at least 240 hostages, ranging in age from a 9-month-old baby to an 86-year-old man.

“We are going to continue, we are committed to have hostages released, but we are also committed to stop the war,” Qatar’s prime minister said.

But, he added, “we are not seeing the same willingness from both parties.”

People hold up posters of the missing as they gather outside the Qatari Embassy in London on October 29, 2023, to demand the release of the estimated 240 hostages held in Gaza. (Justin TALLIS / AFP)

Israel has vowed to crush the Hamas terror group, and has rejected calls for a ceasefire that would leave the organization intact and in charge of Gaza. Its military offensive targeting the group, which Israel says is deeply embedded inside and under Gaza’s civilian population in tunnels, has left widespread destruction and thousands dead.

Jerusalem says that its offensive has increased pressure on Hamas, making a second hostage deal more likely.

Two days after hostilities renewed on December 1, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that talks for a new pause in fighting had stalled. At the same time, Israel said it was bringing home its negotiating team from Qatar, due to negotiations hitting a dead end.

‘Sea of death’

On Friday, Washington blocked a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, with US Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood saying that halting military action would allow Hamas to continue to rule Gaza and “only plant the seeds for the next war.”

Following the vote, Arab foreign ministers visiting Washington slammed the US for vetoing the resolution, including Al-Thani.

“If the UN Security Council fails to adopt the resolution that is simply calling for humanitarian pauses, that is giving Israel a license to continue its massacre against civilians in Gaza,” said Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.

US Ambassador Alternate Representative of the US for Special Political Affairs in the United Nations Robert A. Wood raises his hand during a United Nations Security Council meeting on Gaza, at UN headquarters in New York City on December 8, 2023 (Charly Triballeau/AFP)

At the forum, Safadi accused Israel of dragging the region “deeper into the sea of death.”

“We are facing a difficult moment, a moment that will take us deeper into the sea of death and destruction, and Israel simply feels it can do that — it feels unaccountable,” he said.

Also speaking at the Doha Forum, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the United States is as responsible as Israel for civilian deaths in Gaza.

“For the United States to block a United Nations Security Council resolution, one should hold the Americans responsible” for the deadly violence, he said.

Addressing the Doha Forum earlier Sunday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the Security Council was “paralyzed by geostrategic divisions” that were undermining solutions to the conflict.

The body’s “authority and credibility were severely undermined” by its delayed response to the war, said Guterres, who invoked a rarely used power last week to put the matter before the Security Council.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers an address during the opening session of the Doha Forum in the Qatari capital on December 10, 2023. (SALIM MATRAMKOT / AFP)

“I reiterated my appeal for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared,” he told the forum. “I can promise, I will not give up.”

Some 17,700 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, whose figures cannot be independently verified. The group does not differentiate between combatants and civilians, and the figure likely also includes many killed by misfired rockets launched by Palestinians.

Israel says it has killed some 7,000 Hamas fighters inside Gaza, and earlier reported that there had been roughly two civilian deaths for every terrorist killed.

Palestinians at the site of an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 9, 2023 (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces says it is doing what it can to minimize harm to civilians, accusing Hamas of using Gaza’s civilians as human shields. The terror group’s vast tunnel system snakes under homes, schools and hospitals, forcing Israeli troops to operate in areas with Gazan noncombatants.

“We are facing a severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian system,” Guterres told the Doha Forum.

“The situation is fast deteriorating into a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole and for peace and security in the region.”

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