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Bowen diary: Truce hopes

BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen is writing a diary of the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

A Palestinian man reacts after hearing the news of the death of his relative in Gaza City. Photo: 16 January 2009
Palestinians have accused the Israeli army of targeting civilians in Gaza

16 January

This war seems to be approaching its end.

I'm told the Egyptian effort to mediate between Israel and Hamas is making progress. Let's hope so.

The people of Gaza have been suffering terrible pain. When this is over, there is bound to be a proper investigation of some of the actions that Israel has carried out.

Some revealing comments have been made today.

Tony Laurance, head of the World Health Organization's office in Gaza, told the Associated Press that attacks on clinics and hospitals had been a "grave violation of international humanitarian law".

As for a ceasefire, a variety of diplomatic sources are saying that they hope there will be a deal this weekend

"If this continues it will be a humanitarian catastrophe, especially for the health care system," he said.

And from Geneva, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that the situation was "completely and utterly unacceptable based on every known standard of international humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles and values".

It condemns "the fact that PRCS [Palestinian Red Crescent] facilities have been so severely damaged and its staff prevented from sufficiently carrying out their humanitarian mission".

"In particular, it condemns the destruction caused to the PRCS Al-Quds hospital and administrative buildings that has resulted in widespread fire damage. At the same time, the second floor of the hospital suffered a direct hit causing fires in the pharmacy and severe damage in many parts of the hospital.

"Five hundred people, among them 30 war-wounded patients, are right now huddled on the ground floor of the PRCS hospital in fear for their lives, and choking on dust and fumes resulting from the attacks and other war damage."

Diplomatic push

It would be wrong to suggest that the experience of Israeli civilians in the areas that can be hit by rockets has been the same.

It is very frightening to be close to a rocket when it explodes, and people have been killed or injured. But the casualty figures, and the level of destruction in Gaza, tell their own story.

As for a ceasefire, a variety of diplomatic sources are saying that they hope there will be a deal this weekend.

First of all, it is important to stress that might not happen. At the end of the Lebanon war, diplomats were telling me that a ceasefire was imminent for more than a week before one was agreed.

But the Egyptians are doggedly trying to find a way to mediate between Israel and Hamas.

Israeli envoy Amos Gilad, who is the head of the political-military section of Israel's ministry of defence, has been to Cairo twice in two days. That wouldn't have happened if there wasn't something to talk about.

After Mr Gilad's second meeting, the Egyptians asked Hamas to come back for another meeting and they say they're on their way.


Previous diary entries by Jeremy Bowen:



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