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Cease-fire talks: Israel downplays chances of ending war with Hamas

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — A Hamas delegation was in Cairo on Saturday as Egyptian state media reported ‘notable progress’ ceasefire talks for Gaza. But Israel did not send a delegation and a senior Israeli official downplayed prospects of a complete end to the war while emphasizing its commitment to invading Rafah.

Pressure is mounting to reach an agreement the war which lasted almost 7 months. A senior UN official says there is now a “ widespread famine” in northern Gazawhile the United States has repeatedly warned its close ally Israel against its plan offensive on Rafahthe southernmost city on the border with Egypt, where more than a million Palestinians are taking refuge.

Egyptian and US mediators have signaled signs of compromise in recent days, but the chances of a ceasefire deal remain tied to the key question of whether Israel will agree to end the war without achieving its stated goal to destroy the militant group Hamas.

Egypt’s state broadcaster Al-Qahera News said consensus had been reached on many controversial points, but did not give details. Hamas has called for a complete end to the war and the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Gaza.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations, downplayed prospects of a complete end to the war. The official said Israel was committed to the Rafah invasion and would under no circumstances agree to end the war as part of a deal to release the hostages.

Israeli media said the statement was dictated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government could be threatened if it agreed to a deal because the most radical members of the Cabinet were demanding an attack on Rafah.

The proposal that Egyptian mediators submitted to Hamas calls for a three-step process that would result in an immediate six-week ceasefire and partial release of Israeli hostages, and would include some sort of Israeli withdrawal. The initial phase would last 40 days. Hamas would begin by releasing female civilian hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Some hostage families have accused Netanyahu of prolonging the war for his political interests. Daniel Elgert, whose brother Itzhak is detained by Hamas, addressed Netanyahu at the latest rally in Tel Aviv: “Bibi, we are calling you from here to announce the end of the war in exchange for the return of all the hostages. The war is indeed over, we know it is over, you can’t fool us.”

The war has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health authorities in Gaza, caused widespread destruction and plunged the territory into an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

The conflict erupted on October 7, when Hamas attacked southern Israel, kidnapping around 250 people and killing around 1,200, mostly civilians. Israel activists say still hold around a hundred hostages and the remains of more than 30 other people.

Israeli strikes on Gaza on Saturday killed at least six people. Three bodies were found in the rubble of a building in Rafah and taken to Yousef Al Najjar Hospital. A strike in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza killed three people, hospital officials said.

Over the past 24 hours, the bodies of 32 people killed by Israeli strikes have been transported to local hospitals, the Gaza Health Ministry announced on Saturday. The ministry does not distinguish between fighters and civilians in its counts, but says women and children make up about two-thirds of those killed.

The Israeli military claims to have killed 13,000 militants, without providing evidence to support its claims.

It also made mass arrests during its raids inside Gaza. The territory’s health ministry has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the death in Israeli custody of a surgeon from Gaza. Adnan al-Borsh, 50, was working at al-Awda hospital when Israeli troops stormed it in December, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club.

The United Nations has warned that hundreds of thousands of people would be “in imminent danger of death” if the Israeli army advanced towards Rafah, a densely populated city which is also a key entry point for humanitarian aid. Israel informed US officials on its civilian evacuation plan.

The head of the United Nations World Food Program, Cindy McCain, said Friday that civilians trapped in the north, the most isolated part of Gaza, had plunged into starvation. McCain said a ceasefire and a significantly increased flow of aid by land and sea routes were essential.

An Israeli humanitarian official on Saturday called McCain’s assertion incorrect and said Israel was facilitating the delivery of additional aid. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.

Israel recently opened new aid crossings into northern Gaza, but on Wednesday Israeli settlers blocked the first convoy before it entered the besieged enclave. Once inside Gaza, the convoy was commandeered by Hamas militants, before UN officials took it back.

Some displaced residents of northern Gaza said they were skipping meals and had not seen vegetables in weeks.

“You know, now everything is rare in Gaza. There are no vegetables and there is no aid or food parcels. We receive food packages about once a month,” said Marwan Al-Zaid.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where tensions have been high since the start of the Gaza war, the Israeli military said the Shin Bet killed five fighters in Tulkarem, saying the fighters opened fire. Palestinian authorities said five people were killed by Israeli fire in the town of Deir al-Ghusun, about 7 kilometers northeast of Tulkarem.


Jeffery reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war at

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