Deadly fighting rocked Gaza on Wednesday as US top diplomat Antony Blinken on a Middle East tour pushed for an elusive truce and hostage release deal to end the war raging since October 7.

Northern Israel meanwhile came under repeated barrages of rocket fire from Hezbollah in Lebanon, a day after an Israeli air strike killed a senior commander of the militant group allied with Hamas. 

And in Geneva, a UN investigation concluded on Wednesday that Israel has committed crimes against humanity during the war in Gaza, and that both parties to the bloody conflict were guilty of war crimes.

US secretary of state Blinken arrived in the Gulf emirate of Qatar on his latest regional crisis tour, to promote a ceasefire deal outlined by president Joe Biden on May 31.

US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators were studying a reply Hamas issued late Tuesday, but there was no news of a breakthrough as Hamas has insisted on a complete end to the war, a demand rejected by Israel.

Hamas and their allies Islamic Jihad said that their response calls for ‘a complete halt to the on-going aggression on Gaza’.

Hamas proposed amendments including a ceasefire timeline and the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, a source familiar with the talks said.

As the Gaza war has raged for more than eight months, claiming a spiralling civilian death toll in the besieged territory, deadly violence has also flared along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

An Israeli strike Tuesday killed Hezbollah commander Taleb Sami Abdallah, described by a Lebanese military source as the group’s ‘most important’ fighter killed in the war so far.

The Israeli military confirmed it had ‘eliminated’ Abdallah, whom it called ‘one of Hezbollah’s most senior commanders in southern Lebanon’ who had ‘planned, advanced and carried out a large number of terror attacks against Israeli civilians’.

On Wednesday morning, air raid sirens blared across northern Israel as three waves of about 160 rockets and missiles filled the sky.

Several were intercepted by Israeli air defences while others struck inside northern Israel sparking fires, the military said, reporting no casualties.

The Israeli military said its ‘artillery struck the sources of the fire’ and that fighter jets bombed a launcher and four ‘terrorist infrastructure sites’.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned last week that the army was ‘prepared for a very intense operation’ along the Lebanese border and that ‘one way or another, we will restore security to the north’.

Israel’s military also kept up its bombardment and ground operations inside Gaza, where the Baptist Hospital said a pre-dawn air strike killed seven people in a family house in Gaza City.

Further south, a child was killed and several wounded in an Israeli bombardment targeting a house in Rafah, a medic at Al-Nasser Hospital said. Air strikes and shelling also hit the city of Khan Yunis.

The Israeli military said that ‘over the past day troops eliminated a number of armed terrorist cells in close-quarters encounters’ in Rafah, and that the air force struck ‘over 30 terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip’.

The devastating war has sparked a global outcry and demands for Israel to end it, with the UN Security Council and major world and Arab powers voicing support for the proposed ceasefire.

‘The horror must stop,’ UN chief Antonio Guterres told a Gaza aid conference in Jordan on Tuesday.

A UN investigation concluded on Wednesday that Israel has committed crimes against humanity during the war in Gaza, including that of ‘extermination’, and that Israeli and Palestinian armed groups had both committed war crimes.

The Commission of Inquiry, established by the UN Human Rights Council, noted ‘a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population in Gaza’ including ‘starvation as a method of warfare’.

It also concluded that members of Hamas, other Palestinian armed groups and civilians participating in the October 7 attack ‘deliberately killed, injured, mistreated, took hostages and committed sexual and gender-based violence’.

Israel rejected the conclusions, accusing the UN commission of ‘systematic anti-Israeli discrimination’.

The war broke out after Hamas’s October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 of them are dead.

The Israeli army launched a devastating offensive on Gaza that has left at least 37,164 people dead, the majority of them civilians, according to the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry.

Biden on May 31 outlined what he called an Israeli plan that would start with a six-week ceasefire and the exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners and, in three negotiated phases, lead to the rebuilding of Gaza.

Washington has maintained that Israel is on board and has pushed Hamas to also agree, but neither party to the war has yet published its formal response.

Netanyahu is under extreme public pressure to free the remaining hostages, but he also faces a major political threat from hard-right Jewish nationalists in his ruling coalition.

National security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and finance minister Bezalel Smotrich have threatened to bring down the government if he agrees to any ceasefire before Hamas is defeated.

Hamas on Tuesday submitted its response to Qatar and Egypt, which passed it along to the United States. The Islamist group characterised its reply as ‘responsible, serious and positive’.

Blinken sent two senior advisers to review the Hamas response with Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, a US official said.

The secretary of state, on a four-country swing around the Middle East, was to later meet the top leadership of Qatar, which has transmitted messages to the Palestinian militant group.


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