Palestinian death toll has reached 29,000, says Gaza Health Ministry

19 February 2024, 17:54

Israel Palestinians
Israel Palestinians. Picture: PA

The US, Israel’s top ally, says it is still working with mediators Egypt and Qatar to try to broker another ceasefire and hostage release agreement.

Israel’s assault in Gaza has killed more than 29,000 Palestinians since October 7, the territory’s Health Ministry said, marking another grim milestone in one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the offensive until “total victory” against Hamas after the militants’ October 7 attack on Israeli communities.

He and the military have said troops will move soon into the southernmost town of Rafah on the Egyptian border, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have sought refuge from fighting elsewhere.

The United States, Israel’s top ally, says it is still working with mediators Egypt and Qatar to try to broker another ceasefire and hostage release agreement.

(PA Graphics)

But those efforts appear to have stalled in recent days, and Mr Netanyahu angered Qatar by calling on it to pressure Hamas and suggesting it funds the militant group.

The conflict has also brought near daily exchanges of fire between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group that frequently threaten to escalate.

Israeli warplanes on Monday carried out at least two strikes near the southern port city of Sidon in one of the largest attacks near a major city, Lebanese state media said.

There was no immediate word on casualties.

The Israeli military said it attacked Hezbollah arms depots near Sidon in retaliation for a drone that exploded in an open field near the northern Israeli city of Tiberias earlier on Monday.

In Gaza, the Health Ministry said the death toll had risen to 29,092 since the start of the war, around two-thirds of them women and children.

More than 69,000 Palestinians have been wounded, overwhelming the territory’s hospitals, less than half of which are even partially functioning.

The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count.

APTOPIX Israel Palestinians
Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Rafah (Fatima Shbair/AP)

The Health Ministry is part of the Hamas-run government in Gaza but maintains detailed records of casualties.

Its figures from previous wars in Gaza have largely matched those of UN agencies, independent experts and Israel’s own tallies.

The war began when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel from Gaza on October 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 men, women and children hostage.

After a round of exchanges for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel in November, around 130 remain captive, a fourth of them believed to be dead.

The Israeli military released a video on Monday showing what is believed to be the youngest hostage, his brother and mother being led through the streets of the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis soon after their kidnapping on October 7.

The video provides evidence that Shiri Bibas and her two young boys, Ariel, four, and Kfir, who was nine months old at the time, survived the initial kidnapping.

The boys are the only children who remain in captivity, along with their mother.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the military’s chief spokesman, said the army is “very concerned” about the family’s wellbeing.

People demand the immediate release of the Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group protest in-front of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament in Jerusalem
People demand the immediate release of the Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group protest in front of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

He said the army found the videos in security cameras seized during its offensive in Khan Younis.

The video appears to show Ms Bibas, wrapped in a blanket, being led through a dirt street by her captors as she carries Ariel.

The military said it believed that Kfir was in a baby sling and could not be seen under the blanket.

The infant with red hair and a toothless smile has become a symbol across Israel for the helplessness and anger over the hostages still held in Gaza.

Their father, Yarden Bibas, is also still in captivity.

In a statement, the extended Bibas family said the videos “tear our hearts out”.

They made a desperate plea for negotiations to release all of the hostages.

In January, the family and hundreds of activists marked Kfir’s first birthday in what his family called “the saddest birthday party in the world”.

Israel Politics
Benjamin Netanyahu speaking during a gathering of Jewish leaders at the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

With thousands of Palestinians detained by Israel since the war began, an Israeli human rights group reported that Palestinians inside Israeli prisons face daily violence from guards, who enter cells and beat inmates with batons, kicks and fists without provocation in abuse it said could amount to torture.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said in a report on Monday that detainees reported guards urinating on them and forcing them to kiss the Israeli flag and to strip.

Prisoners are also held in overcrowded cells and deprived of water for long periods, it said.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about hundreds of Palestinian women and girls in Israeli detention.

It said there were credible reports that at least two were raped, and others “subjected to multiple forms of sexual assault”, including being stripped naked and searched by male officers and being photographed “in degrading circumstances”.

Israel says it has killed more than 10,000 Palestinian militants but has provided no evidence for its count.

The military says it tries to avoid harming civilians and blames the high death toll on Hamas because the militant group fights in dense residential neighbourhoods.

The military says 236 of its soldiers have been killed since the start of the ground offensive in late October.

By Press Association

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