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Israel and Hamas making progress towards ceasefire deal, hostage talks: Officials

Image Source : AP Palestinians mourn the deaths of their loved ones in Deir al Balah.

Cairo: Israel and Hamas are making progress towards a ceasefire deal that aims to bring about the release of hostages being held in the Gaza Strip, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the negotiations. This comes as Israel has intensified its offensive in the southern Gaza town, where most of the displaced Palestinians have crammed into to seek shelter from fighting elsewhere.

Israeli forces have rescued two hostages held in Rafah along the Egyptian border in a raid that killed at least 74 Palestinians and left a trail of destruction, according to local health officials. A deal would provide people in Gaza with a desperately needed respite from the escalating war and free at least some of the over 100 hostages in the Palestinian enclave.

A senior Egyptian official said mediators have achieved what he described as “relatively significant” progress in the negotiations between Israel and Hamas ahead of a scheduled meeting in Cairo on Tuesday of representatives from Qatar, the US, and Israel. He added the meeting would focus on “crafting a final draft” of a six-week ceasefire deal, with guarantees that the parties would continue negotiations toward a permanent ceasefire.

Israel has proposed a two-month cease-fire in which hostages would be freed in exchange for the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, and top Hamas leaders in Gaza would be allowed to relocate to other countries. Hamas rejected those terms and laid out a three-phased plan of 45 days each in which the hostages would be released in stages, which was then rejected by Israel as the group called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops.

With the war grinding on, efforts mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt to bring about a deal have been hobbled by the starkly disparate positions of Hamas and Israel. Israel has made destroying Hamas’ governing and military capabilities and freeing the hostages the main goals of its war, which was launched after thousands of Hamas-led militants rampaged through southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 people hostage.

The war has wrought unimaginable destruction in the Gaza Strip, with more than 28,000 people killed, more than 70 per cent of them women and minors, according to local health officials, and most of the territory has been flattened by relentless airstrikes, displacing around 80 per cent of the 2.3 million population.

South Africa files ‘urgent request’

Amid international alarm over Israel’s non-stop offensive that has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe, South Africa on Tuesday said it filed an “urgent request” with the International Court of Justice to consider whether Israel’s military operations in Rafah constitute a breach of provisional orders handed down by the justices last month.

South Africa aid in a statement that it had asked the court to weigh whether Israel’s indication that it would launch a ground offensive in Rafah represents a “further imminent breach of the rights of Palestinians in Gaza”. This comes after the UN top court handed down a preliminary ruling last month calling on Israel to prevent the deaths of Palestinian civilians. Israel has adamantly denied the allegations and insists it takes every measure to spare civilians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press on until “total victory,” and has insisted that strong military pressure will secure the hostages’ freedom — an idea his allies say was bolstered by the successful rescue mission. But the rescued hostages, Fernando Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, were just the second and third captives to be freed by the military since the war erupted.

Growing frustration between US and Israel

The war has also widened tensions between the US and Israel, as President Joe Biden has repeatedly called on the latter to scale down its offensive in Gaza and prevent the deaths of Palestinian civilians. The frustration of Biden reached a new height as he allegedly hurled “abusive” remarks against Netanyahu during a private conversation.

A report claimed Biden called Netanyahu an “as****e” as the latter repeatedly rejected the ceasefire offers which could have eased the tensions between the two neighbouring nations. Citing five people directly familiar with his comments, the report said that Biden has expressed frustration to confidants, including campaign donors, over his “inability to persuade Israel to change its military tactics in Gaza”.

Biden has said he is trying to get Israel to agree to a cease-fire, but Netanyahu is “giving him hell” and is impossible to deal with, said the people familiar with Biden’s comments. The US President has grown steadily more frustrated with the rising Palestinian civilian death toll in Gaza and Netanyahu’s reluctance to pursue a long-term peace agreement. 

On Sunday, Biden told Netanyahu in a phone call that he believes “a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan” for protecting and supporting the Palestinians sheltering there, the White House said in a statement. This came after Biden described Israel’s military assault on Rafah as “over the top”.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | Biden fed up with Netanyahu, hurls ‘abusive’ remarks as hospitals in Gaza piled up with dead bodies

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