#World News

Bowen: Obstacles to peace seem larger than ever

By Jeremy Bowen

Six months after the Hamas attacks on Israel, war, disease, starvation and death ravage Palestinians in Gaza. Israel is deeply divided, as its prime minister struggles to keep his promise of total victory. The United States, Israel’s most essential ally, has turned against the way it is fighting the war.

With Iran vowing vengeance for Israel’s assassination of a leading Iranian general in Syria, and months of cross-border conflict with Iran’s ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, the risks of an all-out Middle East war are increasing.

The statistics record the horrors of the past six months. More than 33,000 Gazans, a majority of whom were civilians, have been killed, according to the health ministry. According to Save the Children, 13,800 Palestinian children in Gaza have been killed and over 12,009 wounded. Unicef reports at least 1,000 children have had one or both legs amputated.

More than 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed by Hamas on 7 October, and 253 people were taken into Gaza as hostages. Israel says that of 130 hostages still there, at least 34 are dead. A UN team reported in March that it had “clear and convincing information” that hostages had been subjected to sexual violence “including rape, sexualised torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”. It said there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that the violence against hostages was continuing.

Kibbutz Nir Oz is right on Israel’s border with Gaza. It feels like a time capsule still stuck in the horrors of 7 October 2023. Just after first light on that morning, Hamas broke through the wire. By the time the Israeli army arrived in the early afternoon, a quarter of the 400 or so Israelis who lived there had either been killed by Hamas or taken hostage.

Ron Bahat showed me around. He is a man in his 50s who grew up at Nir Oz. Ron survived with his family through good luck and arms strong enough to hold shut the door of the safe room when Hamas entered his house.

We walked along the neat lines of small houses, with gardens that are now overgrown. Many had bullet holes or were burnt out and had not been disturbed since the bodies of the dead were recovered. Ron pointed out the homes of friends and neighbours who were killed or taken as captives to Gaza. In one badly damaged house, a pile of neatly ironed children’s clothes had somehow survived the fire. The family who lived there did not.

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