US and Egypt 'hopeful' of ceasefire in Gaza as envoys meet in Cairo

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

Jerusalem:

Top US diplomat Antony Blinken said on Monday he was “hopeful” Hamas would accept the latest proposal for a long-sought ceasefire and the release of hostages in Gaza, as negotiators from the Palestinian group were due to arrive in Egypt.

Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been trying to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas for months, and a recent wave of diplomacy appeared to indicate a new push to stop the fighting.

Talks are taking place in Cairo today, says Al-Qahera News, which has ties to Egyptian intelligence services.

It was not clear whether the Hamas delegation had already arrived, but Qatari mediators were also in Cairo, according to a source with knowledge of the talks.

A senior Hamas official said on Sunday that the Palestinian militant group had no “major problems” with the latest ceasefire plan.

Blinken, during his seventh visit to the region since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war, told a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Saudi Arabia that he “hoped” Hamas would accept a ceasefire.

“Hamas has before it a proposal that is extremely, extremely generous on Israel's part,” Blinken said, urging the group to “decide quickly.”

“I'm hopeful they will make the right decision.”

At the same meeting, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that “the proposal has taken into account the positions of both sides.”

While there was no “final decision” yet, Shoukry said: “We are hopeful… I hope everyone will take the opportunity.”

The war has pushed the besieged Gaza Strip to the brink of famine, the UN and humanitarian aid groups say, left much of the territory in ruins and raised fears of a wider regional conflict.

In southern Gaza, an AFP correspondent, witnesses and rescuers reported airstrikes on Rafah, where the majority of Gaza's 2.4 million residents have taken refuge near the border with Egypt.

At least 22 people were killed in the city, medics and the Civil Protection Service said, while witnesses told AFP at least three houses were hit.

– 'Life in hell' –

A Hamas source close to the talks told AFP that the group would like an agreement that would include “a permanent ceasefire, the free return of displaced persons, an acceptable prisoner and hostage exchange agreement and a guarantees an end to the siege.” Gaza.

In Israel, protesters have demanded that the government secure the release of the 129 hostages estimated to remain in Gaza, including 34 who the military says are dead.

They were seized during Hamas's attack on southern Israel on October 7, which sparked the war and resulted in the deaths of about 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,488 people, mostly women and children, in Hamas-held territory, according to the Health Ministry.

The total includes at least 34 deaths in the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said Monday.

Israel has pledged to pursue Hamas battalions in Rafah despite growing global concern about civilians sheltering there, but Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the government may “suspend” the invasion if an agreement is reached.

Blinken reaffirmed US opposition to the planned Israeli offensive.

“We have not yet seen a plan that gives us confidence that citizens can be effectively protected,” he said.

High temperatures in busy Rafah have turned makeshift shelters made of plastic tarpaulin into sweltering ovens.

“We live in hell,” says displaced Palestinian Hanane Saber (41).

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has said that “as the weather warms, the risk of spreading disease increases,” a threat exacerbated by uncleaned waste.

According to the Hamas source, the latest plan proposes an Israeli withdrawal from two main roads through the coastal area so that Gaza residents can return to the hard-hit north.

Hamas negotiator Zaher Jabareen told AFP that “success or failure” will be determined by “the ability to reach a permanent ceasefire” – a condition Israel has previously rejected – and to agree on “clear” plans for the reconstruction of war-ravaged Gaza. .

The news website Axios reported, citing Israeli officials, that Israel's latest proposal includes a willingness to discuss the “restoration of lasting peace” after the hostages are released.

– Talks about the release of hostages –

As diplomatic efforts intensified, a State Department official said Blinken will also travel to Israel and neighboring Jordan later this week.

His Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, said on Sunday that the international “political system” has failed in its response to the “catastrophe” in Gaza.

Prince Faisal told the WEF summit that only “a credible, irreversible path to a Palestinian state” will prevent the world from facing “the same situation” again in the future.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government has rejected calls for a Palestinian state.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority is based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, appealed at the WEF meeting to the United States to stop Israel from invading Rafah, which he said would be “the greatest disaster in the world.” history of the Palestinian people'. “.

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

War Cabinet member Benny Gantz said that “Rafah is important in the long struggle against Hamas,” but also that the Israeli government “will not have the right to exist” if it blocks a deal to free the prisoners.

According to media reports, the Israeli government had authorized its negotiators to discuss the initial release of fewer than the 40 hostages it had previously demanded during the first phase of a ceasefire.

US President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Netanyahu on Sunday about the ceasefire negotiations and “the increase in the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza”, the White House said.

They discussed “preparations” to open new border crossings into northern Gaza, where conditions are particularly poor, it added.

Elsewhere, Hamas's armed wing claimed a barrage of rockets fired from Lebanon at a military position in northern Israel, although the army reported no casualties or damage.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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