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Hopes of Gaza ceasefire rise as Hamas delegation arrives in Cairo | Israel-Gaza war

Hopes for a ceasefire in Gaza rose Saturday with the arrival of a Hamas delegation in Cairo to continue indirect negotiations, with what appears to be a response to a new proposal, reportedly accepted by Israel, aiming to suspend fighting for 40 days and exchange hostages. for Palestinian prisoners.

Egyptian and American mediators have reported signs of compromise in recent days and Egypt’s official Al-Qahera news channel said on Saturday that consensus had been reached during indirect negotiations on many controversial points, but gave no no other details.

However, many analysts remain pessimistic after five months of on-and-off negotiations that often failed. Negotiators have always struggled to reconcile Hamas’s demand for a lasting ceasefire that would allow the organization to claim victory with the apparent determination of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, to force Hamas to leave power, kill or capture its leaders and destroy its entire army. abilities.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity Saturday to discuss ongoing negotiations, downplayed prospects for a complete end to the war. The official said Israel was engaged in an offensive on Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town, and would under no circumstances agree to end the war as part of a deal to liberate the hostages.

Egyptian sources told the Wall Street Journal that Israel would allow an extra week for truce negotiations, after which it would launch its long-threatened offensive.

The United States has sought to pressure Hamas into accepting the latest proposals, which are widely seen as a last chance to avoid further intense fighting. Any Israeli offensive in Rafah will likely result in many new civilian casualties and exacerbate the acute humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“The only thing standing in the way of the people of Gaza and a ceasefire is Hamas,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday.

Blinken also reiterated Washington’s objections to an offensive on Rafah, saying Israel had not presented a credible plan to protect the 1.2 million or more civilians displaced from elsewhere in Gaza who have sought refuge in camps sprawling refugees in tents and UN shelters.

“Without such a plan, we cannot support a major military operation in Rafah, because the damage it would cause exceeds what is acceptable,” he said.

Humanitarian groups and the United Nations have also repeatedly called on Israel to call off an attack on Rafah.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, warned Friday that a large-scale military operation in Rafah “could lead to bloodshed and further weaken an already broken health system.”

Israeli officials say a ground offensive in Rafah is essential to achieving Israel’s declared war goals because thousands of Hamas fighters and leaders of the militant Islamist organization are based there.

Hamas captured around 250 hostages in the surprise attack in southern Israel in October last year that sparked the war. About half are still detained in Gaza, and many of them are believed to be in or below Rafah.

Around 1,200 people died in the Hamas attack in October, most of them civilians. More than 34,600 people died in Gaza, most of them women and children, in the ensuing Israeli military offensive. Israel says Hamas uses civilians as human shields, a charge the organization denies.

Israeli strikes early Saturday on Gaza 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 also 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 combatants and civilians in its counts.

Hamas, in power in the Gaza Strip since 2007, says it views the latest truce proposal with a “positive spirit”.

But the group is deeply divided and statements made by its political wing, now primarily based in Istanbul, often do not reflect the views of Yahya Sinwar, the organizer of the October attacks and Hamas’s top leader in Gaza.

Observers say it is significant that the Hamas delegation currently in Cairo is led by Khalil al-Hayya, deputy head of the group’s political branch in Gaza, rather than a more senior figure who might lack credibility with Sinwar, who has ultimate authority over everything. agreement.

The Israeli government is also deeply divided. Top officials in his war cabinet want to secure a ceasefire and release surviving prisoners, but far-right ministers have threatened to overthrow Netanyahu’s ruling coalition if the war does not continue with greater force .

The United States, alongside Egypt and Qatar, is trying to reach a ceasefire deal in a war that has lasted nearly seven months.

During the last truce, over a week in November, 80 Israeli hostages were exchanged for 240 Palestinian prisoners. It is now estimated that almost a third of those remaining held captive by Hamas are dead.

The Israeli siege has pushed many of Gaza’s 2.4 million residents to the brink of starvation and US pressure has prompted Israel to facilitate more aid deliveries to Gaza, including through the reopened Erez crossing which leads directly to the hardest-hit north.

Last week, Israeli settlers blocked a convoy using a new route from Jordan before it crossed into Gaza. Once inside the territory, the convoy was commandeered by Hamas militants before UN officials took it back.

Food availability has “improved somewhat”, according to the UN and residents of Rafah interviewed by the Guardian, with prices of some basic necessities falling to near pre-war levels in the areas. from the south where aid is most important.

US charity World Central Kitchen resumed operations this week, after suspending them following Israeli drone strikes that killed seven of its employees while unloading aid in Gaza on April 1.

World Central Kitchen participated earlier this year in an effort to establish a new maritime aid corridor to Gaza from Cyprus to help offset declining land deliveries from Israel.

The project suffered another setback Friday when the U.S. military announced that high winds had forced troops working to assemble a temporary aid dock off the Gaza coast to relocate to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

But the head of the UN food program nevertheless warned of “widespread famine” in northern Gaza despite improvements, and reiterated calls for a ceasefire.

“There is famine, widespread famine, in the north, and it is moving south,” said Cindy McCain, executive director of the World Food Program.

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