Israel signals progress in Gaza truce talks; delegation to be sent to Qatar - as it happened

Ahram Online , Sunday 25 Feb 2024

After an Israeli delegation was sent to Paris for ceasefire talks on Saturday, Israel discussed progress in mediated negotiations on a new Gaza truce to recover captives held by Hamas.

A Palestinian woman reacts after an Israeli strike on Shaheen family house in Rafah, Gaza Strip. AP


22:30 Defense minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday said there would be no letup in Israeli action against Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, even if a ceasefire and captive deal are secured in Gaza.

"If anyone thinks that when we reach a deal to release captives in the south and the firing stops it will ease what is happening here they are wrong," he said in a video message.

21:20 Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, whose country has played the key mediation role in the Gaza war, visits Paris this week for talks with President Emmanuel Macron, the French presidency said Sunday.

The ruler's trip on Tuesday and Wednesday will be his first state visit to France since he became emir of the small but gas-rich and hugely influential emirate in 2013, according to the Elysee.

Qatar has emerged as the key player in mediation between Israel and Hamas to agree on a truce in Gaza and release more captives.

It hosts the political bureau of Hamas but also enjoys warm relations with the United States.

"Qatar is notably working on the release of the captives, which is a priority for us," said a French presidential official. Three French nationals are among those still held by Hamas.

18:30 The United States, Egypt, Qatar, and Israel have agreed in Paris on the “basic outlines” of a prisoners deal for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on CNN on Sunday.

17:00  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the military operation into Gaza's Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering in tent cities, would put Israel within weeks of "total victory" over Hamas.

"If we have a (ceasefire) deal, it will be delayed somewhat, but it will happen," he told CBS.

"If we don't have a deal, we'll do it anyway. It has to be done, because total victory is our goal, and total victory is within reach, not months away, weeks away, once we begin the operation."

An Israeli delegation was in Paris on Friday to discuss a deal on a fresh ceasefire and the release of captives held by Hamas in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

The talks then restarted in Doha, including Hamas representatives.

"We're all working on it. We want it. I want it. Because we want to liberate the remaining captives," Netanyahu said.

"I can't tell you if we'll have it, but if Hamas goes down from its delusional claims and brings them down to Earth, we'll have the progress that we all want."

15:30 Negotiations for a ceasefire in Gaza have resumed in Doha between "experts from Egypt, Qatar, the United States, and Israel," as well as Hamas representatives, Egyptian Al-Qahera News reported Sunday.

An Israeli delegation led by Mossad chief David Barnea was in Paris on Friday, discussing possibilities of a deal to ensure a fresh ceasefire and the release of captives held in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Israel's war cabinet agreed on Saturday to send a delegation to Qatar to continue the talks, according to Israeli media reports.

The talks are a "continuation of what was discussed in Paris" and "will be followed by meetings in Cairo," reported Al-Qahera News.

As with a previous week-long truce in November that saw more than 100 captives and 240 Palestinian prisoners freed, Qatar, Egypt, and the United States have been spearheading efforts to secure a new deal.

International pressure for a ceasefire has mounted in recent weeks, as the death toll from Israel's military offensive on the Palestinian territory nears 30,000, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry.

In negotiations, Hamas has demanded a ceasefire and Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed as "delusional" as he vows to press further into the territory.

Fears have surged over Israeli plans for a ground invasion of Rafah, Gaza's southernmost city where 1.4 million Palestinians have been pushed into sprawling tent cities right against the Egyptian border.

US, Arab, and other mediators have voiced hope a deal can be reached before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on 10 or 11 March, depending on the lunar calendar.

14:00 Iran condemned on Sunday the latest strikes by the United States and Britain on Yemen, saying they were seeking to "escalate tensions and crises" in the region.

On Saturday, American and British forces carried out fresh strikes against 18 Houthi targets in Yemen in response to a wave of attacks by the Iran-backed group on Red Sea shipping.

"With such attacks, America and Britain seek to escalate tensions and crises in the region and expand the scope of war and instability," Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanani said in a statement.

"Certainly, this kind of arbitrary and aggressive military operation, aside from aggravating insecurity and instability in the region, will not achieve anything for these aggressor countries," Kanani added.

He further condemned the United States and Britain for failing to "take immediate and effective action" to stop Israel's deadly campaign in Gaza.

The Houthis say their attacks on shipping around the Red Sea are in support of Palestinians in war-ravaged Gaza.

Following the Saturday attacks, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said the US "will not hesitate to take action, as needed, to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world's most critical waterways."

The Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said the attacks would continue until "the aggression stops" in Gaza.

The Islamic Republic has previously said it sees a "duty" to support what it calls "resistance groups" in the region but insists they are "independent" in decision and action.

13:30 The Israeli army announced the death of another soldier killed in the southern Gaza Strip over the weekend, bringing the death toll of troops in the ground offensive on Gaza to 240.

Earlier, the army announced the death of the staff sergeant of the Givati unit, who was killed in southern Gaza Saturday.

13:00 At least 29,692 Palestinians have been killed and 69,879 injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since 7 October, the Palestinian health ministry said in its latest toll.

Most of the casualties were women and children, the ministry said, and thousands more bodies are likely to remain uncounted under rubble across Gaza.

12:30 Hezbollah announced that two members of the group were killed in an Israeli strike near the border between Syria and Lebanon.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the incident took place near the Syrian town of Qusayr, south of Homs, close to the Lebanon border. 

Meanwhile, the Israeli army said that four rockets were fired from Lebanon at the Upper Galilee area, as rocket sirens had sounded in several northern Israeli settlements along the borders with south Lebanon.

Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it targeted an army base in the area.

Hezbollah and Israeli forces have been trading fire on a nearly daily basis since the Israeli war on Gaza erupted.

12:00 Israel's war cabinet met to discuss a proposed ceasefire and captives deal late Saturday, but there was no official word on what they had decided. 

Several Israeli media outlets, citing unnamed officials, said it tacitly approved the deal and that Israel would send a delegation to Qatar for further discussions, AP reported.

Israel is meanwhile developing plans for expanding its offensive to the southernmost city of Rafah, on the Gaza-Egypt border. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will convene the cabinet this week to “approve the operational plans for action in Rafah,” including the evacuation of civilians.

Israeli Ynet News cited officials saying that Israel will present its plans for the Rafah operation to Egypt to avoid tension between the two countries.

A senior official from Egypt said mediators were waiting for Israel's official response to a draft deal that includes the release of up to 40 women and older captives held in Gaza in return for up to 300 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, mostly women, minors, and older people, according to AP.

The Egyptian official said the proposed six-week pause in fighting would include allowing hundreds of aid trucks to enter Gaza every day, including the northern half of the besieged territory. He said both sides agreed to continue negotiations during the pause for further releases and a permanent ceasefire.

11:00 A two-month-old Palestinian boy has died from starvation in northern Gaza, according to media reports.

The Shehab news agency reported that Mahmoud Fattouh died at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Friday, with paramedics reportedly saying he died from acute malnutrition.

UN children's agency UNICEF said that one in six children in Gaza City is acutely malnourished as Israel maintains a deadly blockade on food, medicine, and fuel to the strip.

The report by the Global Nutrition Cluster, an aid partnership led by the UN children's agency UNICEF, says more than 90 percent of children under five in Gaza eat two or fewer food groups a day, known as severe food poverty. A similar percentage are affected by infectious diseases, with 70 percent experiencing diarrhoea in the last two weeks.

More than 80 percent of homes lack clean and safe water, with the average household having one litre (quart) per person per day, according to the report released late Monday.

Medics in Gaza hospitals describe babies born sick to malnourished mothers, infants losing weight, mothers unable to produce breast milk, and injured patients too weak from hunger to fight off infection.

10:00 Domestic pressure on the Israeli government to bring the captives home has also steadily mounted, with thousands gathering in Tel Aviv Saturday night at what has come to be known as "Hostages Square" to demand swifter action.

"We keep telling you: bring them back to us! And no matter how," said Avivit Yablonka, 45, whose sister Hanan was captivated on 7 October. 

Anti-government protesters were also out in Tel Aviv, blocking streets and calling for Netanyahu's government to step down as authorities deployed water cannon and mounted officers in a bid to disperse them.

"They are not choosing the right path for us. Whether it's (the) economy or peace with our neighbours," 54-year-old software company CEO Moti Kushner said of the government. "It looks like they never want to end the war," he added.

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