Gaza truce talks set to resume in Cairo as heavy Israeli strikes continue

AFP , Sunday 3 Mar 2024

Delegations from Hamas, Qatar, and the United States have arrived in Egypt to resume a new round of negotiations for a truce in Gaza, Al-Qahera News reported Sunday, as deadly Israeli bombardment continues across the Palestinian Strip.

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A Palestinian man holds a child as he mourns the death of twin babies Naeem and Wissam, killed in an overnight Israeli air strike, during their burial in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3, 2024. AFP

 

Cairo, Doha, and Washington have mediated in weeks of ceasefire talks aiming to pause the fighting in the almost five-month-old Israeli war on Gaza.

A senior Hamas official told AFP that a delegation from the Palestinian group would discuss with mediators a proposal for a six-week truce after a US official said Israel had "more or less accepted" its terms.

Mediators have been scrambling to lock in a truce before Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month that begins on March 10 or 11.

The Hamas official said that if Israel were to meet its demands -- which include a military withdrawal from Gaza and stepped-up humanitarian aid -- this would "pave the way for an agreement within the next 24-48 hours".

The Palestinian health ministry said at least 90 Palestinians had been killed in the past 24 hours, including 14 family members whose house in the southern Rafah refugee camp had been hit.

In a sign of the worsening humanitarian crisis in the narrow coastal territory, ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said at least 16 children had died of malnutrition in recent days as "famine spreads in the Strip's north".

Israel's top ally the United States on Saturday began airdropping aid into war-ravaged Gaza, which has faced dwindling deliveries of relief supplies across its land borders.

The Hamas official said the group would demand "the entry of at least 400 to 500 trucks per day" carrying food, medicine, and fuel as part of the truce deal.

The US official, speaking to reporters late Saturday, said "there's a framework deal" for a ceasefire which "the Israelis have more or less accepted".

Israel had yet to confirm that it had accepted the truce plan or whether it would attend the Cairo talks.

A ceasefire could start "today if Hamas agrees to release the defined category of vulnerable hostages... the sick, the wounded, elderly and women," the US official said.

"Right now, the ball is in the camp of Hamas."

Osama Hamdan, a Lebanon-based Hamas official, told Qatar's Al-Araby TV that the group insisted on a complete, rather than "temporary", ceasefire and on "ending the aggression against our people".

 

50 targets

An AFP correspondent in southern Gaza, near the border with Egypt, said several air strikes hit Rafah and Khan Yunis during the night.

The Hamas government media office also reported intense tank shelling in northern Gaza.

The Israeli military said its forces had carried out an extensive series of strikes on targets in Khan Yunis, south Gaza's main city that has become the focus of fighting in recent weeks.

About 50 targets including "underground terrorist infrastructure" and military sites were hit "within six minutes", the army said.

In Rafah, where more than one million Gazans displaced by the war have sought refuge, Israeli bombardment late Saturday killed 11 people at a makeshift camp near a hospital, the health ministry said.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced mounting calls to secure the release of the remaining captives, as well as pressure from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.

Rallies were held on Saturday in Tel Aviv and the occupied Jerusalem, where a relative of one of the captives said he hoped freeing them was a top priority.

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