Israel, Hamas discuss Gaza truce deal amid ongoing war | World News - Hindustan Times
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Israel, Hamas discuss Gaza truce deal amid ongoing war

AFP |
Apr 09, 2024 01:55 AM IST

Israel is under growing international pressure to agree to a ceasefire, including from its top ally and arms supplier the United States.

Hamas said Monday it is studying a proposal for a truce and hostage-prisoner swap after talks in Cairo, as Israel's defence minister said it is the right time for a deal, six months into a war with the Islamist militants in Gaza.

Smoke billowing over the Palestinian territory during Israeli bombardment amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas.(AFP)
Smoke billowing over the Palestinian territory during Israeli bombardment amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas.(AFP)

Israel is under growing international pressure to agree to a ceasefire, including from its top ally and arms supplier the United States.

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Late Monday a Hamas source close to the negotiations said the group was reviewing the proposal that would see a six-week truce and Israeli women and child hostages freed in exchange for up to 900 Palestinian prisoners.

The source, asking for anonymity, said the first phase would also involve the return of displaced Palestinian civilians to northern Gaza, and the delivery of 400 to 500 trucks of food aid daily to the territory, where the United Nations has warned of imminent famine.

But while negotiations continued, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a date had been set for sending troops into Gaza's far-southern Rafah city.

"It will happen -- there is a date," Netanyahu said in a video statement which did not specify the timing. He insists "victory" over Hamas militants in Gaza requires troops to go into Rafah, where around 1.5 million people have sought shelter.

The prospect of a Rafah invasion has alarmed world leaders and humanitarians. After Netanyahu's comment, the US State Department reiterated that an invasion would have "an enormously harmful effect" on civilians, and ultimately Israeli security.

- 'Shocked' -

A day earlier, the army announced the withdrawal of its forces from Khan Yunis city, to Rafah's north, prompting thousands of displaced Palestinians to trudge back through an apocalyptic landscape of dust and destruction.

"I am shocked at what I saw," said Umm Ahmad al-Fagawi, in a voice that seemed choked with emotion. "All the houses are destroyed, not only mine but also those of all the neighbours around us," she said surrounded by a grey landscape of rubble.

The health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said at least 38 more people were killed over the previous day.

Witnesses told AFP that more Israeli air strikes and artillery fire hit north and central Gaza, as well as in Rafah where Israel has regularly bombed targets even ahead of any invasion there.

The war began with the October 7 attack against Israel by Hamas militants that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show.

Palestinian militants also took more than 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 the army says are dead.

- Intense pressure -

Netanyahu is under intense pressure at home from families and supporters of hostages, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel launched a retaliatory offensive that has killed at least 33,207 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to Hamas-run Gaza's health ministry.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday said troops left Khan Yunis after months of fighting to "prepare for future missions, including... in Rafah" on the Egyptian border.

Amid the threats and ongoing fighting, Netanyahu has sent negotiators to fresh truce talks that started in Cairo on Sunday, joined by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

US President Joe Biden dispatched CIA chief Bill Burns to the talks, three days after a tense phone call with Netanyahu in which Biden demanded a halt to the fighting and greater steps to help and protect Gaza civilians.

His demands followed an April 1 Israeli drone strike which killed seven aid workers for the US-based charity World Central Kitchen, increasing global outrage against Israel.

United States National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said negotiators had presented Hamas with a proposal for a ceasefire deal and "it's going to be up to Hamas to come through."

Egypt's state-linked news outlet Al-Qahera reported "significant progress being made on several contentious points of agreement", citing an unnamed high-ranking Egyptian source.

The Qatari and Hamas delegations had left Cairo and were expected to return "within two days to finalise the terms of the agreement", it said, while the US and Israeli teams were also planning consultations.

Gallant on Monday told Israeli army recruits that, "I think we are at an appropriate moment" to do a deal with the Islamist militants.

"The relentless pressure on Hamas and the position of strength from which we come into this campaign, allow us flexibility and freedom of action," he added, according to a statement from his office.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid, on a visit to Washington, said a hostage deal would be "difficult" but "it's doable and therefore needs to be made."

- Body parts -

Majed al-Ansari, spokesman for Qatar's foreign ministry, told the BBC he was "more optimistic today than I was a couple of days ago" but added: "We are by no means at the last stretch of the talks."

A siege has deprived Gazans of most water, food and other basic supplies -- the dire shortages only minimally eased by aid trucks and, in recent weeks, airdropped relief supplies.

Charities have accused Israel of blocking aid, but Israel has blamed shortages on aid organisations' inability to distribute assistance once it gets in.

After the phone call with Biden, Netanyahu's office said Israel would allow "temporary" aid deliveries via Ashdod port and Erez checkpoint into northern Gaza.

Israeli government spokesman Avi Hyman said 322 trucks entered Gaza over the previous 24 hours, "the highest in a single day since the start of the war."

White-clad forensic technicians gathered in the sandy courtyard of the blasted-out and burnt remains of what was Gaza's largest hospital, Al-Shifa.

Khalil Hamada, the hospital's forensic chief, said they were trying to identify decomposing body parts "which were buried in a barbaric way".

The hospital was the scene of a fierce two-week battle.

Calls to halt arms shipments to Israel have increased. Nicaragua argued before the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Monday that Germany is in breach of the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention by furnishing Israel with weapons.

Germany's top lawyer called the case “grossly biased.”

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