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Israel Assails Hamas Across Gaza Amid Possible New Round of Talks

Smoke billows following Israeli bombardment in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 25, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
Smoke billows following Israeli bombardment in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 25, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)

Israeli forces pressed on with their military operation against Hamas throughout the Gaza Strip but left the door open for a new round of mediated negotiations next week, an official said Saturday.

The decision for a new round of negotiations was made after the head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency met with CIA chief William Burns and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, said the source, who spoke to Reuters and declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.

"At the end of the meeting, it was decided that in the coming week, negotiations will open based on new proposals led by the mediators, Egypt and Qatar and with active U.S. involvement," the source said.

There has been a stalemate in peace talks, with Israel demanding the release of the hostages held by Hamas and Hamas calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners and an end to the war in Gaza.

Thirty-one people were killed in the enclave Saturday, according to Palestinian medical officials, who do not distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties.

Israeli forces pushed deep into Jabalia, north of Gaza City, and said they “eliminated dozens of terrorists in close-quarter combat and aerial strikes." Residents and civil emergency services in the area said Israeli tanks rolled in, destroying dozens of houses, shops and roads.

Hamas, which governs Gaza, and the smaller armed group Islamic Jihad said their fighters had fired anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs at Israeli troops in the north of the enclave.

In the southern city of Rafah, Israel’s military operations continued, despite the ruling by the U.N. International Court of Justice that Israel should “immediately halt its military offensive” in Rafah. Israel says its goal in Rafah is to eliminate Hamas cells embedded there. It also said that some of its hostages are being held there.

One Rafah resident who asked not to be named said the Israeli military is assaulting the city indiscriminately.

"The occupation forces keep the city under bombing, not only east where they invaded but at the center and the western sides. They want to scare people to leave the whole city," the resident said.

The city has become a refuge for hundreds of thousands of Gazans fleeing fighting elsewhere in the enclave. After Rafah became a target as well, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled the city.

World reacts to ICJ ruling

World leaders reacted to the ruling Friday by the U.N. International Court of Justice that Israel should “immediately halt its military offensive” in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. The decision intensifies international pressure on Israel regarding its assault on Gaza, but Israel has said it will not comply.

Reading the ruling, ICJ President Nawaf Salam cited “exceptionally grave” conditions for the “extremely vulnerable” population in Rafah.

In a TV interview, the Spanish defense minister, Margarita Robles, called the conflict in Gaza a "real genocide," as relations between Israel and Spain worsen following Madrid's decision to recognize a Palestinian state.

Her comments echoed similar remarks by Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz, who earlier this week described the Gaza conflict as a genocide.

The British government on Saturday criticized the International Court of Justice, saying the ruling would strengthen Hamas.

Israel has strongly rejected accusations that it is committing a genocide against Palestinians, saying it is waging war on the Hamas militant group that attacked Israel on October 7, triggering Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

In a joint statement, the offices of Israel’s prime minister and foreign ministry slammed the court’s decision, calling the accusations against it “false, outrageous and disgusting.”

Minister Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war Cabinet, responded to the ICJ decision by telling Israeli media that the military would keep fighting to return the nation's abductees and ensure the safety of its citizens.

The ICJ is the highest U.N. body for hearing disputes between states. Its rulings are final and binding, but they have been ignored in the past because the court has no enforcement powers.

Its decision does add more diplomatic pressure on the Israeli government.

Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group told VOA that the ICJ ruling may allow the U.S. to put more pressure on Israel and that Israel “may try and win back a little goodwill by allowing some more aid into Gaza.”

“I think that the Israelis have made it very clear all through the year that they will ignore any calls for restraint from the International Court of Justice,” he said.

South Africa's international relations department hailed the ruling.

"South Africa welcomes the ruling made by the court today,” said Zane Dangor, director-general of the country’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation. "This is de facto calling for a cease-fire. It is ordering the major party in this conflict to end its belligerent action against the people of Palestine.”

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi also applauded the ICJ’s decision.

"Once again, the ICJ exposes Israel’s war crimes in Gaza. And once again, the Israeli government reacts with disdain to international law, refusing to heed the court’s orders,” he said.

The European Union foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, also reacted to the ruling. "What is going to be the [EU's] answer to the ruling of the International Court of Justice that has been issued today? What is going to be our position? We will have to choose between our support to international institutions of the rule of law or our support to Israel."

This week alone, three European countries announced they would recognize a Palestinian state — Ireland, Spain and Norway.

Hamas issued a statement welcoming the court’s decision but told Reuters the ruling fell short of recognizing that other parts of the enclave are under attack.

"We believe it is not enough since the occupation's aggression across the Gaza Strip, especially in northern Gaza, is just as brutal and dangerous," senior Hamas official Basem Naim said.

Israel has previously described the ICJ’s case against its assault on Gaza as “divorced from the facts.” It has repeatedly dismissed the accusations of genocide as baseless, stating that its offensive in Gaza is self-defense and targets Hamas militants.

Since Hamas launched a terror attack October 7 on Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking roughly 250 hostages, Israel has embarked on an offensive to eliminate Hamas from Gaza. In recent weeks, Israel says, its forces have killed 30,000 people, the majority of them combatants. The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza says 35,000 people have died, most of them women and children, but does not estimate how many of the dead were combatants.

The United States, Israel’s main ally, has opposed Israel’s invasion of Rafah, where more than a million refugees were sheltering from clashes elsewhere. Some 900,000 have since fled Rafah, according to the Israel military.

Some information used in this report was provided by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.