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Hamas delegation to arrive in Egypt for Gaza truce talks


Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been trying to mediate an agreement between Israel and Hamas for months, but a flurry of diplomacy in recent days appeared to suggest a new push towards halting the fighting.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on his seventh visit to the region since the October 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war, arrived Monday in Saudi Arabia and will also travel to Israel and neighbouring Jordan later this week, a State Department official said.

A senior Hamas official said Sunday that the Palestinian group had no “major issues” with the most recent truce plan.

“The atmosphere is positive unless there are new Israeli obstacles,” the official told AFP, requesting anonymity to discuss the negotiations.

While Israel has pledged to go after Hamas battalions in Rafah despite mounting global concern for Palestinian civilians sheltering in the southern Gaza Strip city, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the government may “suspend” the invasion if an agreement is reached.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on his seventh Middle East trip since the start of the Israel-Hamas war
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on his seventh Middle East trip since the start of the Israel-Hamas war © EVELYN HOCKSTEIN / POOL/AFP

The war has brought besieged Gaza to the brink of famine, UN and humanitarian officials say, reduced much of the territory to rubble and raised fears of broader conflict.

An AFP correspondent, witnesses and rescuers reported air strikes overnight on Rafah, where the majority of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have sought refuge near the border with Egypt.

More strikes were reported in central Gaza.

At least 22 people were killed in Rafah, medics and the Civil Defence agency said Monday, with witnesses telling AFP at least three houses had been hit.

A Hamas source close to the negotiations had told AFP the group “is open to discussing the new proposal positively” and is keen for an agreement that “guarantees a permanent ceasefire, the free return of displaced people, an acceptable deal for (prisoner) exchange and ensuring an end to the siege” in Gaza.

Israel has pledged to go after Hamas battalions in Rafah despite mounting global concern for civilians sheltering there
Israel has pledged to go after Hamas battalions in Rafah despite mounting global concern for civilians sheltering there © – / AFP

In Israel, protesters have taken to the streets to urge the government to secure the freedom of the 129 hostages who remain in Gaza since being seized by militants on October 7, including 34 the military says are dead.

‘Irreversible path’ to statehood

Hamas’s October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of about 1,170 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,454 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

A one-week halt to the fighting in November saw 80 Israeli hostages exchanged for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

Hamas has previously insisted on a permanent ceasefire — a condition Israel has rejected.

A displacement camp in central Gaza's Deir el-Balah
A displacement camp in central Gaza’s Deir el-Balah © – / AFP

However, the Axios news website, citing two Israeli officials, reported that Israel’s latest proposal includes a willingness to discuss the “restoration of sustainable calm” after hostages are released.

It is the first time that Israeli leaders have suggested they are open to discussing an end to the war, Axios said.

As diplomatic efforts intensified, Blinken arrived in Riyadh for talks with Arab and European foreign ministers aimed at pushing an Israel-Hamas ceasefire and increasing humanitarian aid into Gaza, a State Department official said.

His Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, said on Sunday that the international community had failed Gazans.

He reiterated that only “a credible, irreversible path to a Palestinian state” will prevent the world from confronting “this same situation” again in the future.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government has rejected calls for Palestinian statehood.

‘Suspend’ Rafah invasion

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority has partial administrative control in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, appealed at the WEF meeting for the United States to stop Israel from invading Rafah, which he said would be “the biggest disaster in the history of the Palestinian people”.

Katz, the Israeli foreign minister, signalled on Saturday that Israel would be willing to call off an invasion of Rafah if Hamas accepted a deal to release hostages.

Map of the Gaza Strip
Map of the Gaza Strip © Sylvie HUSSON, Sabrina BLANCHARD / AFP

“If there is a deal, we will suspend the operation,” he told Israel’s Channel 12.

In February, Netanyahu said any truce deal would only delay — not prevent — a Rafah operation.

Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz said in a statement that “Rafah is important in the long struggle against Hamas” but that “the government will not the right… to exist” if it prevents the return of the hostages.

UN humanitarian agency OCHA has warned that “famine thresholds in Gaza will be breached within the next six weeks” if massive food aid does not arrive.

The White House said Sunday that a US-made pier meant to boost aid to Gaza will become operational in two to three weeks but cannot replace land routes.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on ABC News that Israel is letting in more trucks, in line with “commitments that President Biden asked them to meet”.

US President Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu by phone Sunday and “reviewed ongoing talks to secure the release of hostages together with an immediate ceasefire in Gaza”, the White House statement said.

The two leaders “also discussed increases in the delivery of humanitarian assistance into Gaza”, the statement said, including “preparations” to open new crossings to northern Gaza, where condition have been particularly dire.

Source: France24

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