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Israel PM Netanyahu to undergo hernia surgery as Gaza war rages

Palestinian Territories — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to undergo hernia surgery on Sunday, his office said, as fighting raged almost six months into the Gaza war.

The news comes with Netanyahu under increasing domestic pressure over his failure to bring home all of the hostages still held by Palestinian militants.

Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Yariv Levin will stand in while Netanyahu, 74, undergoes full anesthesia, his office said.

It added that doctors had discovered the hernia on Saturday during a routine checkup, and that after consultations the decision was made for the premier to undergo surgery after completing his daily schedule.

Deadly air strikes again pounded the Gaza Strip as talks towards a truce between Israel and Hamas were set to resume in Cairo on Sunday, according to Egyptian television, though a Hamas official expressed pessimism about the process.

To help alleviate the suffering of Gaza's 2.4 million people, an aid ship was sailing from the Mediterranean island-nation of Cyprus to bring 400 tonnes of food, as part of a small flotilla.

Foreign powers have ramped up aid airdrops, although United Nations agencies and charities warn this falls far short of the dire need and say trucks are the most efficient way of delivering aid.

Several people have died in stampedes or drowned trying to retrieve packages from the sea.

Pope's Easter appeal

On Thursday the world's top court ordered Israel to "ensure urgent humanitarian assistance" in Gaza without delay, saying "famine is setting in."

At least 77 people were killed in bombardment and combat during the previous 24 hours, most of them women and children, said the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

A UN Security Council resolution on March 25 demanded an "immediate ceasefire" and the release of all hostages held by militants, but the binding resolution has failed to curb the fighting, including in or around hospitals.

Tensions have risen between Israel and its chief backer the United States over the spiraling civilian death toll, and especially over Israeli threats to send ground forces into Gaza's crowded far-southern city of Rafah.

Washington has nonetheless approved billions of dollars worth of bombs and fighter jets for Israel in recent days, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed officials.

Pope Francis, in his Easter message, renewed his appeal that "access to humanitarian aid be ensured to Gaza and call once more for the prompt release of the hostages seized on October 7," when Hamas attacked Israel and triggered the war.

Speaking at the Vatican, Francis called again "for an immediate ceasefire" in Gaza.

Mass protests in Tel Aviv

Hamas's attack resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory campaign has killed at least 32,782 people, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Palestinian militants also seized around 250 Israeli and foreign hostages. Israel believes about 130 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.

Under intense pressure to bring the captives home, Netanyahu on Friday approved a new round of ceasefire talks to take place in Doha and Cairo.

Egyptian TV station Al-Qahera, which is close to the country's intelligence services, said that the talks would resume in Cairo on Sunday.

But a Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the Islamist group had not decided on whether to send a delegation to the new round "in Cairo or Doha."

The official also expressed doubt the process could bring results because Netanyahu is "not interested."

Netanyahu has vowed to continue the fight by sending troops in against Hamas fighters in Rafah, where around 1.5 million civilians are sheltering.

Relatives and supporters of hostages held by Hamas have held regular protests, including Saturday night in Tel Aviv, where police used water cannon against demonstrators who lit fires and blocked highways.

"Prime minister, on behalf of the hostage men and women, on behalf of the people of Israel, give the negotiators in Qatar the order: Do not return without a deal," said Raz Ben Ami, a survivor of Hamas captivity.

Anti-government demonstrators and hostage supporters planned to rally again Sunday evening outside the Knesset, the parliament in Jerusalem, and every night until Wednesday, said organizers.

Battles near hospitals

In Gaza, vast areas of which have been reduced to a rubble-strewn wasteland, heavy fighting has rocked areas around several Gaza hospitals.

Israel accuses Palestinian militants of hiding inside and in tunnels beneath the medical facilities, and of using patients and medical staff as cover, charges which the groups deny.

The army said Saturday that it had "continued to eliminate" militants around the largest hospital, Al-Shifa in Gaza City, after earlier reporting around 200 killed in the operation which began two weeks ago on Monday.

The Gaza health ministry said 107 patients remained inside Al-Shifa, including 30 with disabilities, and that the army had stopped attempts to evacuate them.

The army said soldiers raiding the hospital's maternity ward had found "many weapons hidden inside pillows, hospital beds, ceilings and the walls of the compound, including dozens of mortar shells, explosive devices, sniper rifles, Kalashnikov rifles, pistols, magazines, mortars and additional ammunition."

It added that during a sweep of the compound, troops encountered "senior terrorists" in a stairwell and killed them during a subsequent exchange of fire.

Israeli military operations were also ongoing at two hospitals in the southern city of Khan Yunis—at Nasser hospital, according to the Hamas government press office, and at Al-Amal hospital, according to the Red Crescent.

The UN World Health Organization warned that Gaza now has just 10 "minimally functioning" hospitals, down from 36 before the war.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that 9,000 patients need to leave Gaza for "lifesaving health services, including treatment for cancer, injuries from bombardments, kidney dialysis and other chronic conditions." — AFP