Middle East crisis live: ‘promising’ signs of progress on new Gaza hostage deal, says Israel war cabinet member | Middle East and north Africa

Key events

Here are some of the latest images on the newswires today:

Palestinians inspect a destroyed house after an Israeli airstrike on Rafah, southern Gaza Strip on Thursday. Photograph: Haitham Imad/EPA
Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, Israel is being used as a memorial to the more than 1,200 people killed by Hamas during the 7 October attack. Photograph: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images
An activist holds a Palestinian flag as he shouts slogans during a protest to demand the opening of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, outside the Egyptian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday. Photograph: Wael Hamzeh/EPA
Israeli officers inspect the scene of a shooting attack near Ma’aleh Adumim, a West Bank settlement near Jerusalem on Thursday. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA
Hundreds gathered outside the UK parliament to stage a protest in support of Palestinians as the proposal calling a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza was debated in the House of Commons in London on Wednesday evening. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images
A Palestinian girl eats a piece of bread as people check debris on Thursday, after overnight Israeli airstrikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
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At least 29,410 Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes since 7 October, says health ministry

At least 29,410 Palestinians have been killed and 69,465 injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since 7 October 2023, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

The ministry does not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.

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US asks world court not to call for Israeli pullout from Palestinian territories

Julian Borger

The US has urged the international court of justice (ICJ) in The Hague not to issue a ruling calling for Israel’s immediate withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories, arguing that Israeli security had to be taken into account in any solution to the conflict.

“Any movement towards Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza requires consideration for Israel’s very real security needs,” Richard Visek, the state department’s acting legal adviser, told the ICJ judges.

Visek was stating the US position in ICJ hearings this week first requested by the UN general assembly in 2022. They are intended to establish the legal status of the occupied territories, and the implications for the international community’s approach to the conflict.

More than 50 states are due to present their stances in the week-long hearings, which have further emphasised the isolation of Israel’s few supporters, following a UN security council hearing on Tuesday in which the US was the lone vote against a draft ceasefire resolution, with the UK abstaining. The US and UK are expected to be virtually alone again at the ICJ hearings in urging restraint in its ruling on Israel’s occupation.

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Security firm Ambrey has also reported a fire aboard a Palau-flagged, British-owned general cargo ship after two missile strikes south-east of Yemen’s Aden, reports AFP.

The ship “appeared to be headed from Map Ta Phut, Thailand, and headed in the direction of the Red Sea”, Ambrey said. “Merchant shipping is advised to stay clear of the vessel and proceed with caution,” it added.

There was no immediate claim for the attack but it follows a series of strikes on commercial vessels by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The strikes have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12% of global maritime trade.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40% in the previous two months.

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Israeli killed in gun attack near occupied West Bank settlement

In an update to the news that eight people had been injured in a gun attack in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Thursday, AP are now reporting that one Israeli was also killed in the shooting.

Police said that three gunmen opened fire on Thursday morning on the road near a checkpoint in a “terror attack”. Two of the attackers were killed and a third was found later and detained.

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The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency have shared more details on the incident, which took place 70 nautical miles from Aden, that we reported on earlier.

According to Reuters, two missiles were fired at a vessel in an attack south-east of the Yemeni port city of Aden on Thursday, causing a fire onboard, Britain’s maritime agency said.

US-led coalition forces are responding to the incident, which took place 70 nautical miles from Aden in the direction of the Red Sea, the UKMTO agency said without elaborating. “It has been reported that a vessel was attacked by two missiles, resulting in a fire on board,” the UKMTO said.

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Five people killed as ‘intense bombing campaign’ in Rafah continues, reports Al Jazeera journalist

Five people have been killed when a home in Rafah was “targeted” during an “intense bombing campaign across Rafah city”, according to a report by Al Jazeera journalist, Hani Mahmoud.

Reporting from Rafah in southern Gaza, Mahmoud said on Thursday that “an intense bombing campaign across Rafah city” had “stretched into the early hours of this morning”. He said “loud explosions could be heard from the northern part of the city” and that the sound was coming from “the systematic demolition of homes”.

In an update for the Qatar-based broadcaster, Mahmoud wrote:

Overnight, we’re looking at attacks in the eastern part, the northern part and even the western part where literally hundreds of thousands of people have been sheltering.

A mosque nearby was destroyed completely, and we are looking at least three to four homes within its vicinity that have been severely damaged.

Another home was targeted and destroyed and five people were killed.”

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Humanitarian leaders unite in urgent plea for Gaza and call on world leaders to ‘prevent an even worse catastrophe’

In a collective appeal, heads of UN humanitarian entities and global NGOs have implored world leaders to help prevent further deterioration of the crisis in Gaza.

The principals of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), the coordinating body of global humanitarian organisations, released a statement on Wednesday in which it said “civilians in Gaza are in extreme peril while the world watches on”. It listed ten requirements “to avoid an even worse catastrophe”.

These include: an immediate ceasefire; protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure; immediate release of hostages; reliable entry points for aid; security assurances and unimpeded access; a functioning humanitarian notification system; roads cleared of explosive ordnance; and a stable communication network.

In addition, they called for the UN agency assisting Palestine refugees (UNRWA) “to receive the resources it needs to provide life-saving assistance” and “a halt to campaigns seeking to discredit the UN and non-governmental organisations doing their best to save lives”.

The IASC principals concluded:

We are calling on Israel to fulfil its legal obligation, under international humanitarian and human rights law, to provide food and medical supplies and facilitate aid operations, and on the world’s leaders to prevent an even worse catastrophe from happening.”

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The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said on Thursday it had received a report of an incident 70 nautical miles south-east of the Yemeni port city of Aden.

The Iran-backed Houthis, who control Yemen’s most populous regions, have been attacking vessels in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait in what they say are acts of solidarity with Palestinians in the war in Gaza.

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Israel intercepted what appeared to be an attack launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Thursday near the port city of Eilat, as the group escalates its assaults over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, authorities said.

The Associated Press (AP) report that sirens sounded early Thursday morning over Eilat, followed by videos posted online of what appeared to be an interception in the sky overhead. The Israeli military later said the interception was carried out by its Arrow missile defence system.

Israel did not identify what the fire was, nor where it came from, say AP. However, the Arrow system intercepts long-range ballistic missiles with a warhead designed to destroy targets while they are in space.

The system “successfully intercepted a launch which was identified in the area of the Red Sea and was en route to Israel,” the Israeli military said. “The target did not cross into Israeli territory and did not pose a threat to civilians.”

The Houthis did not immediately claim the attack. They typically acknowledge assaults they conduct hours afterward.

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‘Playground politics’ in UK parliament Gaza ceasefire vote a ‘disgrace’, says senior Oxfam staffer

Oxfam’s head of policy and advocacy, Katy Chakrabortty said the “playground politics” in the UK parliament vote on an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel was a “disgrace”.

Responding to Wednesday night’s events in parliament, Chakrabortty said: “It is a disgrace that there has been so much playground politics in parliament this evening, while so many lives are at stake.”

She added:

The people of Gaza can’t wait for our politicians to stop squabbling. Much of the country lies in ruins and Rafah, where many Palestinian families have been forced to flee, is under threat of a full-scale military offensive. Children in the north of Gaza are dying from hunger because no aid can reach them due to Israel’s continued assault and restrictions on access.

“An immediate and permanent ceasefire”, said Chakrabortty, is the only solution to stop this devastating cycle of bloodshed, to ensure the safe release of hostages and to allow urgent aid to reach all of those in desperate need”.

“Many MPs spoke passionately tonight of the horrors in Gaza and we thank those who raised their voices. The government must listen and support UN votes for a ceasefire and end the sale of arms to Israel.”

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UK and Jordan drop aid supplies to a Gaza City hospital

The UK has worked with Jordan to drop aid to a hospital in northern Gaza, reports the Press Association (PA).

Boxes of UK-funded humanitarian aid were delivered by the Jordanian air force to the Tal Al-Hawa hospital on Wednesday. Photograph: Jordanian Armed Forces/AFP/Getty Images

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said the UK-funded consignment was delivered by the Jordanian air force to the Tal Al-Hawa hospital on Wednesday. The hospital, set up by the Jordanian air force, is located in Gaza City.

Supplies included essential medicines, fuel and food for patients and staff. Foreign secretary David Cameron said thousands of patients will benefit from the airdrop.
He said:

We have worked closely with our Jordanian partners to get these life-saving supplies directly to the Tal Al-Hawa hospital. The situation in Gaza is desperate and significantly more aid is needed – and fast. We are calling for an immediate humanitarian pause to allow additional aid into Gaza as quickly as possible and bring hostages home.”

The medicine and fuel included in the four-tonne delivery is part of an agreement signed by the UK this week with the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organisation (JHCO) to deliver £1m of aid to Gaza.

Dr Hussein Shabli, secretary-general of the JHCO, said: “We welcome this partnership with the UK to provide life-saving aid to those who need it most in Gaza. We thank our UK partners for working with us and we will continue to work with them on getting aid into Gaza for as long as it’s needed.”

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Daniel Hurst

Daniel Hurst

An Australian logistics expert who is working at a hospital in Rafah has warned that “everyone here is struggling” while raising fears of a “catastrophic” Israeli ground offensive in the southern Gaza city.

Lindsay Croghan, who is on assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières, also said there must be an “immediate and unconditional ceasefire” because a prolonged debate “equates to more deaths”.

The US used its veto power to block a ceasefire resolution at the UN security council on Tuesday, arguing that it would undermine ongoing negotiations aimed at securing the release of hostages held by Hamas.

The Australian government joined Canada and New Zealand last week to warn Israel against carrying out a “devastating” ground offensive in Rafah, saying there was “simply nowhere else for civilians to go”.

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UK parliament descends into chaos over Gaza ceasefire vote – video report

Dozens of lawmakers stormed out of the UK’s parliament on Wednesday with tempers flaring as the three biggest political parties sought to outmanoeuvre each other over a vote on a ceasefire in Gaza.

The uproar followed a decision by the speaker to ignore precedent and allow a vote which helped the opposition Labour party avoid a large-scale rebellion among its own lawmakers over its position on the IsraelHamas war. Lawmakers from the governing Conservatives and the opposition Scottish National Party (SNP) left the debating chamber in protest and some tried to take the rare step of holding proceedings in private.

The speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, eventually apologised and said he had made his decision to allow lawmakers to vote on a range of views because he was concerned about their security after some had faced threats of violence over their stance on the war.

UK parliament descends into chaos over Gaza ceasefire vote – video report

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Eight injured in gun attack near occupied West Bank settlement, say police

Three gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons on several vehicles near a Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Thursday, injured eight people in a “terror attack”, police said.

The news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP), report that the incident occurred near Maale Adumim settlement, east of Jerusalem. Police said the attackers had arrived in a vehicle.

“The three terrorists … got out of their vehicle and started shooting from automatic weapons at vehicles that were standing in a traffic jam on the road towards Jerusalem,” police said in a statement. “Two terrorists were neutralised on the spot. In the searches conducted at the scene, another terrorist was located who tried to escape and he was also neutralised.”

Eight people with varying degrees of injuries were evacuated from the scene by medics, the police said.

Thursday’s shooting comes after two people were shot dead on Friday at a bus stop in southern Israel near the town of Kiryat Malakhi.

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Opening summary

It has gone 9am in Gaza and Tel Aviv and this is our latest Guardian blog on the Middle East crisis.

Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz has said there are “promising early signs of progress” on a new deal to release hostages from Gaza amid regional talks to secure a pause in the war.

His comments came as US media reported that CIA chief William Burns was expected in Paris for hostage talks.

Meanwhile, the UK parliament had a fractious and occasionally chaotic parliamentary debate on Gaza on Wednesday evening.

MPs voted unanimously for a Labour motion calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza, but only after the speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, upended years of parliamentary precedent to allow the party to bring its motion to a vote.

More on that in a moment, but first here’s a summary of the day’s other main news:

  • Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said a Knesset vote endorsing his stand against a unilaterally declared Palestinian state was supported by an “overwhelming majority against the attempt to impose on us the establishment of a Palestinian state, which would not only fail to bring peace but would endanger the state of Israel.”

  • The US has told the International Court of Justice in The Hague that the Hamas attack on 7 October demonstrated Israel’s “legitimate security needs” in any solution to conflict in the region. The US urged the court not to “find that Israel is legally obliged to immediately and unconditionally withdraw from occupied territory”, but instead “preserve and promote the established framework” for reaching a two-state solution. Russia and France will make oral submissions to the court later on Wednesday.

  • New fighting and a deepening breakdown in public order in northern Gaza have derailed a humanitarian effort to avert a famine in parts of the battered territory, with senior aid officials describing an “incredible level of desperation” as food supplies run out.

  • 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 7 October, and claimed that Hamas chose to use “sadistic sexual crimes” in order to “harm Israel strategically”. Orit Sulitzeanu, CEO of the organisation, said “The report, submitted to decision-makers at the UN, leaves no room for denial or disregard. Silence is no longer an option. We expect international organisations to take a clear stance”.

  • At least two people have been killed by what has been described by Syria’s media as an Israeli airstrike on Damascus. A residential building was struck in the Kafr Sousa district of the capital. Israel’s military have not commented on the claim.

  • The UK government will consider suspending arms export licences to Israel if Benjamin Netanyahu goes ahead with a potentially devastating ground offensive on Rafah in southern Gaza. Ministerial sources said the UK had the ability to respond quickly if the legal advice to ministers said that Israel was in breach of international humanitarian law.

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