Israeli-Hamas war: Russian president demands ceasefire as cardinal offers self for hostages

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the civilian death toll in Gaza could see a “catastrophic increase” and warned of the risk of a regional war, after talking to Iranian and Arab leaders on Monday.

The Kremlin said Putin had spoken to his Syrian, Egyptian and Iranian counterparts as well as Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.

Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said Putin would also speak to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Kremlin statement stressed all the leaders called for “an immediate ceasefire and the establishment of a humanitarian truce to provide urgent assistance to those in need,” it said.

Putin said he was ready to “coordinate efforts with all constructive partners to put an end to hostilities and stabilise the situation as quickly as possible.”

Also, Pope Francis’ representative in the Holy Land said on Monday he was willing to exchange himself for Israeli children taken hostage by Hamas and held in Gaza, The Jerusalem Post reported on Monday.

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, made his comment in response to a question during a video conference with journalists in Italy.

“I am ready for an exchange, anything if this can lead to freedom, to bring the children home. No problem. There is total willingness on my part,” he said.

“The first thing to do is to try to win the release of the hostages, otherwise there will be no way of stopping (an escalation). We are willing to help, even me personally,” he said.

About 200 people were taken hostage and about a dozen of them are believed to be children.

United States President Joe Biden in an interview aired Sunday had told 60 Minutes that it would be a “big mistake” for Israel to occupy Gaza but said that the country had to respond to the Hamas attack last weekend.

CBS News reports that when asked if it was “time for a ceasefire” given the loss of lives, Biden said, “Look, there’s a fundamental difference. Israel is going after a group of people who have engaged in barbarism that is as consequential as the Holocaust. And … I think Israel has to respond. They have to go after Hamas. Hamas is a bunch of cowards. They’re hiding behind the civilians. They put … their headquarters where civilians are and buildings and the like. But to the extent they can separate out … the Israelis are gonna do everything in their power to avoid the killing of innocent civilians.”

Aids stuck

Egypt said on Monday that Israel was not cooperating with the delivery of aid into Gaza and evacuations of foreign passport holders via the only entry it does not wholly control, leaving hundreds of tonnes of supplies stuck.

Cairo says the Rafah crossing, a potentially vital opening for desperately needed supplies into the Israeli-besieged Palestinian enclave, is not officially closed but was made inoperable due to Israeli air strikes on the Gaza side.

“There is an urgent need to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza,” Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told reporters, adding that talks with Israel had not been fruitful.

Residents drink salty water

As Israeli air strikes pounded the Gaza Strip ahead of an expected ground offensive, the enclave’s residents were getting more desperate by the hour as water ran out, garbage piled up, explosions flattened homes and hospitals struggled to cope.

Desperate to get some drinking water, some people began digging wells in areas adjacent to the sea or were relying on salty tap water from Gaza’s only aquifer, which is contaminated with sewage and seawater, Reuters reports.

Gaza authorities said at least 2,750 people, mostly civilians and among them more than 700 children, had been killed and nearly 10,000 wounded. A further 1,000 people were missing, believed to be under rubble.

German Chancellor plans trip to Israel

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday confirmed media reports he would travel to Israel and Egypt this week in the wake of the deadly attack by Hamas militants.

“It is important to me to also express my solidarity with Israel very practically with my visit,” he told reporters, while confirming a “later trip” to Egypt, according to AFP.


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