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A temporary camp is seen in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah. Alamy Stock Photo

Hamas says 'no major issues' with deal as Biden and Netanyahu discuss hostage and truce talks

Hamas said it would send a delegation to Egypt on Monday to deliver the group’s response to Israel’s new hostage and truce counterproposal.


US PRESIDENT JOE Biden spoke with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone today and “reviewed ongoing talks” to free hostages taken by Hamas during their 7 October attack on Israel, the White House said.

The two allies “reviewed ongoing talks to secure the release of hostages together with an immediate ceasefire in Gaza,” the White House statement said. 

A senior Hamas official has told the AFP news agency that the Palestinian group had “no major issues” with the latest proposal from Israel and Egypt for a Gaza ceasefire.

“The atmosphere is positive unless there are new Israeli obstacles. There are no major issues in the observations and inquiries submitted by Hamas regarding the contents” of the proposal, said a Hamas official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A Hamas delegation led by the movement’s senior leader, Khalil al-Hayya, would deliver the group’s response to the truce proposal during a meeting with Egyptian and Qatari mediators in Cairo tomorrow, the official said.

Biden and Netanyahu “also discussed increases in the delivery of humanitarian assistance into Gaza including through preparations to open new northern crossings starting this week,” the statement said.

“The President stressed the need for this progress to be sustained and enhanced in full coordination with humanitarian organizations,” it said.

With humanitarian agencies sounding ever more dire warnings of a crisis in Gaza, Israel has come under increasing pressure – globally and from the United States specifically – to allow more aid into the territory.

Biden also “reiterated his clear position” on any planned Israeli invasion of Rafah.

Diplomatic efforts have intensified today with the Israeli government under intense pressure to reach a ceasefire from its international allies, as well as from protesters within Israel demanding the release of hostages.

Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been trying to mediate a new truce ever since a one-week halt to the fighting in November saw 80 Israeli hostages exchanged for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

Hamas has previously insisted on a permanent ceasefire – a condition that Israel has rejected.

However the Axios news website, citing two Israeli officials, reported earlier today that Israel’s latest proposal includes a willingness to discuss the “restoration of sustainable calm” in Gaza after hostages are released.

Abbas appeal

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Abbas has said the United States is the only country capable of stopping an Israeli invasion of Rafah, saying it would be “the biggest disaster in the history of the Palestinian people”.

Netanyahu has said repeatedly that Israel will press ahead with the threatened assault on Rafah, the last major population centre in Gaza that Israeli ground troops have yet to enter.

A spokesperson for his government repeated on Thursday that it is planning to move ahead with the operation, despite international outcry over fears for Palestinians sheltering there.

“We appeal to the United States of America to ask Israel to stop the Rafah operation because America is the only country capable of preventing Israel from committing this crime,” Abbas said.

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It is the first time in the nearly seven-month war that Israeli leaders have suggested they are open to discussing an end to the war, Axios said..

A Hamas source had said earlier today that the group is “keen to reach an agreement that guarantees a permanent ceasefire, the free return of displaced people, an acceptable deal for (prisoner) exchange and ensuring an end to the siege” in Gaza.

‘Momentum’ for truce talks

Abbas spoke at a World Economic Forum (WEF) summit that opened in Riyadh today, which US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and high-ranking officials from other countries trying to broker a ceasefire are also due to attend.

While there is no Israeli participation, the other key players will discuss the situation in Gaza, WEF president Borge Brende said.

There was “some new momentum now in the talks around the hostages, and also for… a possible way out of the impasse we are faced with in Gaza,” he said.

The current conflict has been ongoing since Hamas’s 7 October attack, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,170 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory siege, bombardment and invasion has killed at least 34,454 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Israel estimates that 129 hostages seized on 7 October are still being held in Gaza, including 34 the military says are dead.

Today, the Gaza health ministry reported at least 66 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Israel pummels Gaza

Israel carried out air strikes and shelling in Gaza overnight, hitting three houses in the southern city of Khan Yunis, an AFP correspondent said Sunday, also reporting strikes on Gaza City and Rafah.

The Israeli military said its jets struck dozens of terror targets including “launch sites, armed terrorists and observation posts”.

rafah-27th-apr-2024-a-boy-stands-among-the-rubble-of-a-destroyed-house-in-the-southern-gaza-strip-city-of-rafah-on-april-27-2024-the-palestinian-death-toll-in-the-gaza-strip-from-ongoing-israeli A boy stands among the rubble of a destroyed house in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In central Gaza, Mohammed al-Hattab said he found his one-year-old boy in the rubble after an Israeli air strike hit the Nuseirat refugee camp over the weekend.

The boy is being treated for a fractured skull, while his two-year-old daughter’s face was “completely disfigured” in the strike, he told AFP.

Most of Gaza’s population has taken refuge in Rafah, according to the United Nations, many in makeshift shelters after fleeing violence elsewhere.

Despite international outcry, Israel has vowed to invade the city, where Israel’s military says Hamas is holding hostages.

On the side of a tent in Rafah on the weekend, a Palestinian wrote a message to the thousands of protesters on US university campuses.

“Thank you, students in solidarity with Gaza, your message has reached,” it read.

Hostages call for deal

A heated rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night was the latest held by protesters demanding that Netanyahu strike a deal that would see the hostages released.

Just hours earlier, Hamas released a video featuring two of the hostages, Keith Siegel and Omri Miran, who appeared to speak under duress.

“Keep protesting, so that there will be a deal now,” Miran said in the footage.

“We are in danger here, there are bombs, it is stressful and scary,” said Siegel, a 64-year-old US citizen.

The Israeli military offensive has turned vast swathes of Gaza into rubble and sparked a humanitarian crisis.

UN humanitarian agency OCHA has warned that “famine thresholds in Gaza will be breached within the next six weeks” if a massive amount of food aid does not reach the territory.

A British ship set to house hundreds of US troops building a temporary pier to boost aid deliveries to Gaza set sail from Cyprus on Saturday.

In the central Gaza city of Deir el-Balah, artist Mahdi Karira has turned discarded tin cans into puppets to entertain displaced Palestinian children.

Karira holds performances to “bring joy to the children”, and to show “that we remain rooted on this land despite the aggression”, he told AFP.

With reporting by David Mac Redmond © AFP 2024

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