BBC 2024-03-03 22:32:25

Israel-Gaza war: Israel demands names of hostages still alive for deal on new ceasefire

Mediators and Hamas have arrived in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, for talks on a new ceasefire, as Israel is reported to be demanding reassurances on the hostages’ fate before attending.

An unnamed US official has said Israel has “more or less accepted” the deal.

But Israeli media say Hamas is refusing to confirm which of its hostages are still alive, so Israel will not attend.

The US says the six-week pause would see the release of more Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners.

Delegates from Qatar and the US are also understood to be in Egypt.

Pressure for a deal intensified after Thursday’s incident outside Gaza City in the north of the territory where at least 112 people were killed as crowds rushed an aid convoy.

Hamas has accused Israel of shooting at civilians as they attempted to get food. Israel has denied this.

On Sunday, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Rear Adm Daniel Hagari said an initial review had been completed “of the unfortunate incident where Gazan civilians were trampled to death and injured as they charged to the aid convoy.

“Our initial review has confirmed that no strike was carried out by the IDF towards the aid convoy,” he said. “Several looters approached our forces and posed an immediate threat to them.”

He said a full investigation would be conducted by “an independent, professional and expert body” of the army, and updates would be shared in the coming days.

The Israeli account is disputed. BBC Verify spoke to witnesses, who described being shot at.

Dr Mohamed Salha, interim hospital manager at al-Awda hospital, where many of the dead and injured were taken, told the BBC: “Al-Awda hospital received around 176 injured people…142 of these cases are bullet injuries and the rest are from the stampede and broken limbs in the upper and lower body parts.”

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Hamas is reported to have said that an agreement on a truce could be reached within the next 24 to 48 hours, with a source from the group telling Egyptian media a deal depended on Israel agreeing to its demands.

Egyptian officials, who have been running the talks with Qatar, said delegations from both Hamas and Israel were expected to attend the negotiations.

Expectations of a deal were raised after a senior US official said Israel for its part had “basically agreed” a framework for a six-week ceasefire.

The Israel military launched a large-scale air and ground campaign to destroy Hamas after its gunmen killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel on 7 October and took 253 back to Gaza as hostages.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says at least 30,410 people, including 21,000 children and women, have been killed in Gaza since then with some 7,000 missing and 71,700 injured.

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Calls for ceasefire come as aid organisations have warned there is a risk of famine in northern Gaza.

Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, has just returned from a three-day visit to the territory.

“I was prepared for nightmare, but it is worse, much worse,” Mr Egeland told the BBC on Sunday.

“People want to take your hand… saying ‘we are starving, we are dying here’.

“I think there is famine in the north,” he said, adding that there had been no aid for 300,000 people living in ruins, with Israel not allowing any through.

After Thursday’s aid convoy incident, the US carried out its first airdrop of humanitarian aid for Gaza, with more than 30,000 meals parachuted in by three military planes on Saturday.

Elsewhere, Israel said on Sunday it carried out an intensive wave of air strikes in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. The number of casualties is not known.

At least 11 people were killed in an Israeli air strike at a camp for displaced people in Rafah in southern Gaza on Saturday, according to Hamas.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the attack “outrageous”.

The Israeli army said it had carried out a “precision strike” against Islamic Jihad militants in the area.

Haiti violence: Gangs free 4,000 inmates in mass jailbreak

Armed gangs have stormed the main prison in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, releasing many inmates.

The vast majority of about 4,000 men held there have now escaped, a local journalist told BBC News.

Among those detained were gang members charged in connection with the 2021 killing of President Jovenel Moïse.

Violence in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, has worsened in recent years. Gangs aiming to oust PM Ariel Henry control 80% of Port-au-Prince.

The latest upsurge in violence began on Thursday, when the prime minister travelled to Nairobi to discuss sending a Kenyan-led multinational security force to Haiti.

Gang leader Jimmy Chérizier (nicknamed “Barbecue”) declared a co-ordinated attack to remove him.

“All of us, the armed groups in the provincial towns and the armed groups in the capital, are united,” said the former police officer, who is thought to be behind several massacres in Port-au-Prince.

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A wave of shootings left four police officers dead and five injured. The French embassy in Haiti advised against travel in and around the capital.

Haiti’s police union asked the military to help reinforce the prison, but the compound was stormed late on Saturday.

On Sunday the doors of the prison were still open and there were no signs of officers, Reuters news agency reported. Three inmates who tried to flee lay dead in the courtyard, the report said.

One volunteer prison worker told the Reuters journalists that 99 prisoners – including former Colombian soldiers jailed over President Moïse’s murder – had chosen to remain in their cells for fear of being killed in crossfire.

Violence has been rife since President Moïse’s assassination. He has not been replaced and elections have not been held since 2016.

Under a political deal, elections were to be held and the unelected Mr Henry was due to stand down by 7 February, but that did not happen.

In January, the UN said more than 8,400 people were victims of Haiti’s gang violence last year, including killings, injuries and kidnappings – more than double the numbers seen in 2022.

Ukraine war: Russia says it intercepts 38 Ukrainian drones attacking Crimea

A series of explosions have rocked Crimea, after a reported Ukrainian drone attack on the peninsula which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.

Video posted online shows a blast allegedly near a fuel depot in the south-eastern city of Feodosiya.

Russian officials said 38 drones had been shot down. The Kerch bridge which connects Crimea with Russia was temporarily closed.

The attack comes as Ukraine continues to urge allies to boost arms supplies.

Russian troops have recently made gains in Ukraine as Kyiv struggles to sustain its forces with Western-made arms. Moscow took control last month of the key eastern town of Avdiivka.

However, according to British military intelligence, this has come at a huge cost. In its latest update, it said February had been the deadliest for the Russians since the start of the full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022 – with 983 killed and wounded per day.

“Today, Russia has highly likely lost over 355,000 personnel killed or wounded during the Ukraine war,” it said. It is not clear how the figure was reached.

Russia does not provide a record of casualties.

A few days ago, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Ukraine had lost 31,000 troops since 24 February 2022. He also claimed that 180,000 Russian troops had been killed since then.

Russia has not reported any damage from the latest attack on Crimea, although eyewitnesses have reported windows shaking and car alarms going off. Kyiv has not confirmed its forces were involved.

On Saturday, a Russian drone hit a block of flats in the Ukrainian city of Odesa, killing at least 12 people, including five children. Sunday is a day of mourning in Odesa and the region.

In a separate development on Sunday, Russia targeted the southern Kherson region, killing one person and injuring another three, according to Ukrainian officials.

They also said 16 people were injured in Russian shelling of the town of Kurakhove, in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region.

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Russian forces have launched thousands of Iranian-made drones at Ukrainian targets since they invaded the country more than two years ago.

In retaliation Ukraine has targeted Russian sites, notably oil facilities.

On Saturday a drone struck a residential building in St Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city. About 100 people were evacuated and there were no reports of casualties.

With its airbases, troop concentrations, training grounds and the Black Sea fleet, Crimea has been a key target for the Ukrainians.

At one point last year, it was thought that it intended to launch a full-scale attack to retake the peninsula.

In particular, Ukraine has repeatedly hit Russia’s Black Sea fleet. Satellite images last year showed many of the Crimea-based warships had left the peninsula for the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk.

Last month, the Russian landing ship Caesar Kunikov was sunk off the coast of Crimea, according to Ukraine’s armed forces.

Its sister ship Novocherkassk was hit while in port in Feodosiya in December last year.

In one of the biggest strikes on the Black Sea fleet, last September Ukraine attacked naval targets and port infrastructure, using as many as 10 missiles and three unmanned boats. It caused a large fire at a Sevastopol shipyard.

Ukraine’s biggest scalp in naval warfare has so far been the sinking of Russia’s flagship Black Sea missile cruiser, the Moskva, in April 2022.

Ukraine has also targeted the Kerch bridge several times as it is an important resupply route for Russian forces occupying parts of the country’s south.

Kyiv has repeatedly said it plans to retake Crimea and all territories seized by Russia.

Ukraine is critically dependent on weapons supplies from the US and other Western allies to keep fighting Russia – a much bigger military force with an abundance of arms and artillery.

Ukrainian troops have been running out of ammunition as supporters of former US President Donald Trump in Congress refuse to approve a $61bn (£48bn) military aid package.

Foden double helps Man City fight back to win derby

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Eurovision 2024: Israel agrees to October Rain lyrics change

Israel’s public broadcaster has requested changes to the lyrics of a song submitted for this year’s Eurovision contest.

Organisers barred it last week for breaking rules on political neutrality.

Israeli broadcaster Kan had pledged not to alter the lyrics of October Rain – an apparent reference to the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October.

But Israel’s President Isaac Herzog called for “necessary adjustments” to ensure Israel can enter the show.

Israel has won the Eurovision Song Contest four times before. This year’s event will be held in Sweden – who won last year’s content – in May.

Kan is in the process of choosing its entry, with October Rain the leading submission and Dance Forever in second place.

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In a statement on Sunday, Kan said it had contacted the lyricists of both songs and asked them to “readapt the texts, while preserving their artistic freedom”.

President Herzog, it added, had “emphasised that it is precisely at a time when those who hate us are seeking to repress and boycott the State of Israel” that the country “must raise its voice” in international forums.

Last month, when the European Broadcasting Union said it was assessing the lyrics, Kan said it had “no intention to replace the song”.

Israel’s entry, to be performed by 20-year-old singer Eden Golan, is due be confirmed next Sunday.

The original lyrics of October Rain – written in English – were published on Kan’s website last month.

They include the lines “They were all good children, every one of them” and “Who told you boys don’t cry/ Hours and hours/ And flowers/ Life is not a game for the cowards.”

The reference to flowers was significant, according to Israel Hayom newspaper, as it often denotes war fatalities.

In previous years the EBU has forced national representatives to change their lyrics.

In 2009, Georgia withdrew from the event after its proposed entry – We Don’t Wanna Put In – was rejected for its obvious references to the Russian president.

Separately, musicians from other Eurovision countries have called for Israel to be suspended over the war in Gaza.

These include artists in Iceland, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, with several pointing out that Russia has been disqualified since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

So far, Eurovision organisers have resisted those calls, arguing that the situations in Ukraine and Gaza are different.