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19 February 2024

Palestinian death toll has reached 29,000, says Gaza health ministry

19 February 2024

Gaza’s health ministry says more than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed in the territory since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

The ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said on Monday that 107 bodies were brought to hospitals in the last 24 hours. That brings the total number of fatalities to 29,092 since the start of the war.

The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its records, but says most of those killed were women and children.

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

More than 100 captives were released during a weeklong ceasefire in November in exchange for 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Israel responded by launching one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history on the besieged enclave, which has been ruled by Hamas since 2007.

Israel says it has killed more than 10,000 Palestinian militants, without providing evidence. 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 war, which shows no sign of ending, has driven around 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million from their homes and has left a quarter of the population starving, according to UN officials.

On Sunday, Benny Gantz, a retired general and a member of Mr Netanyahu’s three-man War Cabinet, warned that the offensive would expand to Rafah if the hostages are not freed by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin around March 10. The holy month of dawn-to-dusk fasting is often a time of heightened tensions in the region.

Israel has said it is developing plans to evacuate civilians from Rafah, but it is not clear where they would go in the devastated territory, large areas of which have been flattened. Egypt has sealed the border and warned that any mass influx of Palestinians could threaten its decades-old peace treaty with Israel.

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. But those efforts appear to have stalled in recent days.

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected what he says are “delusional” demands by Hamas. The militant group has said it will not release all the remaining hostages until Israel ends the war and withdraws from Gaza. It is also demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including top militants.

Mr Netanyahu has rejected those demands, calling them “delusional”. In a speech before American Jewish leaders on Sunday, he said pressure should be applied on Qatar, which played a key role in mediating last year’s ceasefire and hostage release deal.

“Qatar can press Hamas as no one else can. They host Hamas leaders, Hamas is dependent on them financially,” Mr Netanyahu said. “I urge you to press Qatar to press Hamas because we want our hostages released.”

Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Majed al-Ansari, dismissed Mr Netanyahu’s remarks as “a new attempt to stall and prolong the war for reasons that have become obvious to everyone”, alluding to the Israeli leader’s domestic political troubles.

Qatar denies funding Hamas and says its provision of aid to Gaza in recent years was carried out in full coordination with Israel, the US and other parties.

“The Israeli prime minister knows very well that Qatar has been committed from day one to mediation efforts, ending the crisis and freeing the hostages,” Mr al-Ansari said.

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