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Israeli war cabinet member calls for 'grand deal' to secure release of captives in Gaza

Gadi Eisenkot, whose son and nephew were both killed in Gaza fighting, said the time to bring back the captives is 'running out'
Israeli anti-government protesters hold placards during a demonstration in Tel Aviv, 13 January 2024 (AFP)

Israeli war cabinet observer minister Gadi Eisenkot has accused the country's leaders of "lying to themselves", saying they need to reach an agreement with Hamas in order to secure the release of captives still held in Gaza.

Eisenkot, whose son and nephew were both killed in fighting in Gaza, told the five-member cabinet that "we have to stop lying to ourselves, to show courage, and to lead to a large deal which will bring home the hostages," the Times of Israel reported on Monday.

"Your time is running out, and each day that passes endangers their lives," the retired general said.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant responded by telling Eisenkot that only continued pressure on Hamas would lead to another release of captives.

Israel announced an amended state budget on Monday that includes an extra $15bn in spending as a result of the war. 

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At least 24,100 Palestinians - including more than 9,600 children - have been killed and about 61,000 injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since 7 October, the day Palestinian fighters led by Hamas launched a surprise attack on southern Israel.

Israeli authorities say 1,139 people were killed that day and more than 200 people were captured and taken back to Gaza, of which about 132 remain in the embattled territory. 

On Sunday, a Reuters news agency report, quoting Israeli officials, said at least 25 of them have died. The other captives were exchanged during a week-long truce in November.

The report came as Hamas shared a new video on its Telegram account in which three captives could be seen urging the Israeli government to stop their offensive on Gaza and bring about their release.

The undated 37-second video included clips of Noa Argamani, 26, Yossi Sharabi, 53, and Itai Svirsky, 38.

Last month, Netanyahu said in parliament that he had asked China to help free Argamani, whose mother Liora is Chinese. Suffering from a terminal illness, Liora Argamani has appealed to be reunited with her daughter before she dies.

At least 132 killed in last 24 hours

The Palestinian Health Ministry reported on Monday that at least 132 Palestinians had been killed in the past 24 hours, with at least 252 wounded by Israeli air strikes and shelling.

"A number of victims are still under the rubble and on the roads and ambulances, and civil defence crews cannot reach them," the ministry said in a post on Facebook.

Two Palestinians were shot and killed on Monday in the occupied West Bank town of Dura, southwest of Hebron, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. 

The two have been identified as Ahed Mohammed, 24, who was shot in the head, and Mohammed Abu Sabaa, 22, who was shot in the chest.

100 days of war in Gaza: Besieged Palestinians feel isolated, abandoned and afraid
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In the Red Sea, the shipping vessel Gibraltar Eagle was hit by an "unidentified projectile" while sailing 100 miles off the Gulf of Aden, the vessel's US operator, Eagle Bulk Shipping, said on Monday.

The attack came soon after the chief negotiator for Yemen's Houthi group, Mohammed Abdulsalam, said that attacks on Red Sea ships will continue despite US and UK air strikes on Yemen.

“Attacks to stop Israeli ships or those heading to the ports of the occupied Palestine will continue,” Abdulsalam told Reuters.

Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief who is currently visiting Egypt, has called on Israel to end its air strikes and ground offensive in order to better address the "massive" humanitarian needs in Gaza and "organise the release of the [Israeli] hostages."

Borrell also hinted that if conditions worsened in the embattled territory, many of the enclave's more than 2.3 million inhabitants "will not have any other solution than to try to escape the trap" by fleeing into Egypt.

A staggering 1.9 million Palestinians have been displaced since the war began, the majority of whom have had to ferry their children from place to place in search of ever-elusive safety.

"The massive death, destruction, displacement, hunger, loss and grief of the last 100 days are staining our shared humanity," Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of Unrwa, the main UN relief agency in Gaza, said in a statement on Sunday.

"For the people of Gaza, the past 100 days have felt like 100 years. It is high time we restore the value of human life."

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