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Gaza truce talks resume in Egypt, without Israel for now

By AFP - May 04,2024 - Last updated at May 04,2024

A Palestinian man carries belongings in Beit Lahya in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday, amid the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel (AFP photo)

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories — Talks resumed in Egypt Saturday aimed at halting months of war in Gaza between Hamas militants and Israel that have triggered protests around the world.

Mediators from Qatar, Egypt and the United States sat down with a Hamas delegation to hear the group's response to a proposal that would halt fighting for 40 days and exchange hostages for Palestinian prisoners, according to details released by Britain.

Israel has yet to send a delegation to Cairo, with a top official telling AFP that it would do so only if there was "positive movement" on the proposed framework.

"Tough and long negotiations are expected for an actual deal," the Israeli official cautioned.

Previous negotiations stalled in part on Hamas's demand for a lasting ceasefire and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's repeated vows to crush the group's remaining fighters in the southern city of Rafah, which is flooded with displaced civilians.

The prospect of an assault on Rafah has sparked deepening international concern.

The war broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 34,654 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Gaza’s civil defence agency and hospitals reported more deaths from Israeli strikes in Rafah as well as areas farther north.

The United Nations says more than 70 per cent of Gaza’s residential buildings have been completely or partly destroyed, and rebuilding will require an effort unseen since the aftermath of World War II.

Accepting a ceasefire deal with Israel should be a “no-brainer” for Hamas, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said late Friday.

“The reality in this moment is the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire is Hamas,” Blinken said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 1.2 million people, half of the Gaza Strip’s population, have sought refuge in Rafah.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned “a full-scale military operation in Rafah... could lead to a bloodbath”.

UN humanitarian office spokesman Jens Laerke said an assault on Rafah could “strike a disastrous blow” to agencies struggling to provide aid.


‘Open mind’ 


Egypt’s Al Qahera News, which is linked to the intelligence services, quoted an unidentified high-ranking source as saying “there is significant progress in the negotiations” and that the mediators have “reached an agreed-upon formula on most points of contention”.

A senior Hamas official told AFP before the talks resumed that the movement “looks with an open mind to changes in the occupation’s [Israel’s] position and the American position, but there are issues that must be addressed”.

Senior Hamas official Hossam Badran accused Netanyahu Friday of trying to undermine the latest truce proposal with his threats to keep fighting with or without a deal.

Badran said Netanyahu’s insistence on attacking Rafah was calculated to “thwart any possibility of concluding an agreement”.

The top Israeli official, who spoke anonymously, said: “What we are looking at is an agreement over a framework for a possible hostage deal.”

He said that the sign of progress “would be if we send a delegation led by Mossad [intelligence service] chief [David Barnea] to Cairo”.

The continued captivity of Israeli hostages in Gaza has caused rising political tensions, with some protesters accusing Netanyahu of seeking to prolong the war.

Demonstrators have regularly taken to Israeli streets demanding the government reach a deal to bring the hostages home.

The Israeli government says 128 hostages remain in Gaza, including 35 the military says are presumed dead.


Wartime wedding 


US President Joe Biden has come under mounting domestic pressure to leverage more concessions from Netanyahu’s government over its conduct of the war.

A letter signed by 88 congressmen from Biden’s Democratic Party expressed serious concern over Israel’s “deliberate withholding” of aid for Palestinian civilians urged Biden to consider halting arms sales unless Israel’s conduct changes.

Washington has already exerted pressure and Israel has allowed increased aid deliveries.

Food availability has improved “a little bit” but the threat of famine has “absolutely not” gone away, the WHO representative in the Palestinian territories, Rik Peeperkorn said on Friday.

In a rare break from the daily struggle to survive, dozens of Palestinians gathered under decorative lights in Khan Yunis for a mass wedding on Friday. The grooms, one of them on crutches, wore matching dark suits over white shirts.

The war remained close, though.

Israel’s military said its fighter jets struck a munitions site in the Khan Yunis area on Friday after a projectile was fired towards Israel.

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