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Israeli air strikes were reported across the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, including in the southern town of Rafah
By David Gritten
BBC News

Qatar’s PM says indirect negotiations on a ceasefire deal and the release of hostages in Gaza have largely stalled.

Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani, whose country along with Egypt and the United States are mediating between Israel and Hamas, said talks were in a “delicate phase”.

“We are trying as much as possible to address this stumbling block,” he added, without giving further details.

They have proposed a six-week truce during which Hamas would free 40 women, children and elderly or sick hostages.

The US accused the Palestinian armed group of being “the obstacle to a ceasefire” after it publicly rejected the latest offer over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military said 14 Israeli soldiers had been injured, six of them severely, by anti-tank missiles and drones launched from Lebanese territory towards a village in northern Israel.

The Iran-backed Lebanese armed group Hezbollah said it had fired on a military target in the Arab al-Aramshe area in retaliation for recent Israeli strikes that had killed Hezbollah commanders and other fighters.

Hezbollah – which like Hamas is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US, UK and other countries – has been exchanging fire with Israeli forces almost every day along the border since the start of the war in Gaza.

That conflict erupted when Hamas gunmen carried out an unprecedented attack on southern Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and taking 253 others back to Gaza as hostages.

More than 33,800 people have been killed in Gaza, the majority of them women and children, during Israel’s military campaign to destroy Hamas and release the hostages, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

A week-long ceasefire in November saw 105 hostages – most of them women and children – freed in return for some 240 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Israeli officials say 133 hostages are being held in Gaza – including four taken captive before the war – but that more than 30 of them are dead.

A Passover Seder table was set up in central London with 133 empty seats for the hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza

Qatar’s Sheikh Mohammed – whose country hosts many of Hamas’s political leaders – said mediators were trying to keep the ceasefire negotiations going despite the disagreements between the warring parties.

“We are passing through a delicate phase with some stumbling,” he told a news conference with his Romanian counterpart. “We are trying as much as possible to address this stumbling block and to move forward.”

On Saturday, Hamas put out a statement saying it was ready to agree a “serious and true” hostage exchange deal with Israel but rejected what was currently on the table.

It also reaffirmed that it was sticking to its demands for a permanent ceasefire that would lead to a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and the return of displaced Palestinians to their homes.

Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, whose director is leading the Israeli negotiating team, said on Sunday that Hamas’s stance showed that its leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, “does not want a humanitarian deal and the return of the hostages, is continuing to exploit the tension with Iran, and is striving to unite the sectors and achieve a general escalation in the region”.

US Department of State spokesman Matthew Miller said on Monday: “The bottom line is Hamas needs to take that deal and they need to explain to the world and to the Palestinian people why they aren’t taking it.”

Last week, a senior Israeli official told US media that Hamas had informed mediators that it did not have 40 living hostages who meet one of the criteria laid out in the latest ceasefire proposal – children, women, including soldiers, men over the age of 50 and those with serious medical conditions.

A senior Hamas official, meanwhile, said it needed a ceasefire to be under way to provide “enough time and safety” to locate all the hostages.

UN World Food Programme lorries transport flour for Gaza from Israel’s Ashdod container port

Sheikh Mohammed called on the international community to “assume its responsibilities and stop this war”, warning that that civilians in Gaza faced “siege and starvation”, with aid being used as a “tool for political blackmail”.

A UN-backed assessment said last month that an 1.1 million people – half the population – were facing catastrophic hunger and that famine was imminent in northern Gaza. The UN has blamed Israeli restrictions on aid deliveries, the ongoing hostilities and the breakdown of order.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Wednesday that he “rejected the claims of international organisations regarding famine in Gaza” and insisted Israel was “going above and beyond in the humanitarian sphere”.

The Israeli military also announced that food aid had entered Gaza from Israel’s Ashdod container port for the first time, with eight UN World Food Programme lorries transporting flour via the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing with the south of the territory on Wednesday.

A new crossing with northern Gaza was also opened last week as Israel sought to meet the demands made by US President Joe Biden following an Israeli air strike in Gaza on 1 April that killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers.

“In the 12 days following my call with Prime Minister Netanyahu, 3,000 trucks with food and supplies moved into Gaza – a daily increase of over 50% from the week prior,” Mr Biden wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Wednesday.

But he added: “It’s still not enough. We continue to urge Israel to ramp up land, air, and sea deliveries for Gaza civilians.”

On Tuesday, a senior UN humanitarian official warned that it was still struggling to prevent famine and even though there had been some improvement in the co-ordination of aid deliveries with Israel.

“It’s much bigger than simply bringing in flour and baking a few loaves of bread. It is really complex,” Andrea De Domenico noted. “Water, sanitation and health are fundamental to curb famine.”

Cogat, the Israeli defence ministry body that is co-ordinating aid deliveries to Gaza, said 700 lorry loads of supplies were waiting to be collected on the Palestinian side of Kerem Shalom. “We scaled up our capabilities. All the UN did was make up excuses,” it added.

There have been days of intense bombardment and fighting in and around Nuseirat refugee camp, in central Gaza

In a separate development on the ground in Gaza on Wednesday, the Israeli military said its troops and aircraft had “eliminated a number of terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure” in the centre of the territory.

Palestinian media reported that there had been intense bombardment and fighting in and around Nuseirat refugee camp, where 11 members of the al-Nouri family were reportedly killed in a strike on their home on Tuesday.

The Israeli military also said its forces had carried out a raid “to apprehend terrorists hiding in schools” in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. A number of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives were detained and others who resisted were killed, it added.

Four people were reportedly killed on Tuesday when a house in Beit Hanoun was hit and significantly damaged, according to the UN.

One man in neighbouring Jabalia told BBC Arabic’s Gaza Lifeline radio service: “We were shocked by the advance of the occupation [Israeli] forces, which surrounded the entire area and arrested young men, women and children. The forces evacuated us from the area, killed people in Beit Hanoun, entered the shelter schools, and arrested those inside them.”

“This is how our life has become unbearable… whenever and wherever we walk, tanks always shower us with shells.”