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Palestinians stand in the ruins of a home after an overnight Israeli strike that killed at least two adults and five boys and girls under the age of 16 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. PA

Netanyahu says Israel 'cannot accept' Hamas demand to end Gaza conflict as truce talks resume

The Qatar-based political chief of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, has accused the Israeli prime minister of sabotaging the talks.

TALKS AIMED AT reaching a truce in Gaza have resumed, a Hamas source said, but public disagreement between the group and Israel intensified over demands to end the seven-month conflict.

The Hamas delegation have begun meeting with Qatari and Egyptian mediators, the source said.

At around the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a government decision to shut down operations in his country of Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera, which has intensely covered the Gaza war. The broadcaster called the decision a “criminal act”.

Netanyahu again rejected Hamas’s demand to end the conflict in order to reach a ceasefire and said “surrendering” to this would amount to defeat.

“The State of Israel cannot accept this,” he said.

“We are not ready to accept a situation in which the Hamas battalions come out of their bunkers, take control of Gaza again, rebuild their military infrastructure, and return to threaten the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu told the cabinet, according to a statement by his office.

The Qatar-based political chief of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, countered by accusing Netanyahu of sabotaging the talks.

The conflict’s impact has been increasingly felt around the world as pro-Palestinian university students from Australia to Mexico and Europe follow the example of protest encampments set up in the United States.

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

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,683 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

The latest toll included at least 29 deaths over the previous day, the ministry said.

‘Hope and pray’

An AFP correspondent and witnesses today reported shelling and gunfire in the Gaza City area, helicopter fire in central and southern Gaza, and a missile strike on a house in the Rafah area.

Israel’s military said air strikes over the past day killed several militants including three in central Gaza who had participated in the October attack.

“We hope and pray to God that the negotiations succeed,” Amani al-Sowerki of Gaza City said in Rafah, southern Gaza, expressing hope that she and others displaced by the war will be able to go home.

The Palestinian civilian toll has strained ties between Israel and its main military supplier and ally the United States.

Nonetheless, Washington’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that “the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire is Hamas”.

Negotiators are meeting in Cairo without an Israeli delegation present.

The mediators have proposed a 40-day pause in the fighting and an exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners, according to details released by Britain.

It would be the first such truce since a week-long November ceasefire saw a hostage-prisoner swap.


Qatari, Egyptian and US mediators met a Hamas delegation in Cairo on Saturday before talks resumed Sunday.

After “no developments” in the first round, a senior Hamas official insisted the group would “not agree under any circumstances” to a truce that did not explicitly include a complete end to the war, including Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.

Netanyahu, on trial for corruption charges he denies, leads a coalition which includes religious and ultra-nationalist parties.

He faces regular protests at home, including thousands in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, by demonstrators who have accused him of seeking to prolong the war and demanded he reach a deal to bring home hostages still held in Gaza.

“We are not ready to accept a situation in which the Hamas battalions come out of their bunkers, take control of Gaza again, rebuild their military infrastructure, and return to threaten the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu told his cabinet, a statement from his office said.

He added: “Israel will not agree to Hamas’s demands, which mean surrender, and will continue the fighting until all its goals are achieved.”

Hamas chief Haniyeh said Netanyahu wanted to “invent constant justifications for the continuation of aggression, expanding the circle of conflict, and sabotaging efforts made through various mediators and parties”.

He said Hamas “remains eager to reach a comprehensive and interconnected agreement in stages, ending the aggression, ensuring withdrawal, and achieving a serious prisoner exchange deal”.

Previous negotiation efforts had stalled in part because of Hamas’s demand for a lasting ceasefire and Netanyahu’s vows to crush its remaining fighters in Rafah, where half of Gaza’s population is sheltering.

Aid crossing shut

Netanyahu has vowed to invade Rafah regardless of any truce, and despite concerns from the United States, other countries and aid groups.

At the start of the war, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said his country would impose a “complete siege” blocking food, water and other supplies.

Continuous appeals from aid groups, the United Nations and world leaders for greater access have, according to the UN, led to some improvements.

Israel in December reopened the southern Kerem Shalom border crossing for aid, but on Sunday the army said it had closed after munitions were fired towards it from the area of the Rafah crossing to Egypt.

Cindy McCain, executive director of the World Food Programme, appealed for a ceasefire and unfettered, safe access to Gaza.

In an interview excerpt published Friday she said: “There is famine, full-blown famine in the north and it’s moving its way south.”

In their October attack on Israel, Hamas seized hostages, of whom 128 remain in Gaza, including 35 who the military says are dead.

Today, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum appealed directly to Netanyahu in a statement, telling him to “disregard all political pressure”.

It said: “History will not forgive you if you miss this opportunity” to bring the hostages home.

Gaza’s war has led to unrest across the Middle East involving Iran-backed groups, particularly between Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and Israeli forces which have exchanged regular cross-border fire.

Today, Hezbollah said it launched dozens of rockets at northern Israel in retaliation for a strike on south Lebanon that a local official and state media said killed several people.

© AFP 2024