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OCCUPIED JERUSALEM/CAIRO: Israeli officials headed on Monday to Qatar, where Hamas has its political office, to work on terms of a Gaza truce and hostage release deal, a source told Reuters, a step towards nailing down a ceasefire which Washington says is now close.

Israel is under pressure from its main ally the United States to agree a truce soon, to head off a threatened Israeli assault on Rafah, the last city at Gaza Strip’s southern edge where over half the enclave’s 2.3 million people are sheltering.

The source said the Israeli working delegation, made up of staff from the military and the Mossad spy agency, was tasked with creating an operational centre to support negotiations. Its mission would include vetting proposed Palestinian fighters that Hamas wants freed as part of a hostage release deal.

The Israeli mission suggests that peace talks in the Gaza war are further along than at any time since a big push at the start of February, when Israel rejected a Hamas counter-offer for a four-and-a-half month truce.

Last week, Israeli officials discussed terms of a hostage release deal at talks in Paris with delegations from the United States, Egypt and Qatar, though not Hamas.

Israel occupation ‘affront to justice’, UN court told

The White House said they had come to “an understanding” about the contours of a hostage deal though negotiations were still under way. The Israeli delegation briefed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war cabinet late on Saturday.

Egyptian security sources said proximity talks involving delegations from Israel and Hamas - who would meet through mediators in the same city but not face to face - would be held this week, first in Qatar and later in Cairo.

Israel has not officially commented on such talks and there was no immediate word from the Qatari hosts on Monday.

The sides remain far apart publicly on their ultimate aims: Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip and precipitated the war by attacking southern Israel on Oct. 7, says it will not free more than 100 hostages it is still holding unless Israel promises to withdraw from Gaza and end the war.

Israel vows to push into Gaza’s far-south as truce talks underway

Israel says it will negotiate only a temporary pause in hostilities to free hostages, will not fully halt its ground campaign until Hamas is eradicated, and wants overall security control for Gaza indefinitely.

‘Another planet’

Since Hamas killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages in its Oct. 7 attack, Israel launched an all-out ground assault on Gaza, with nearly 30,000 people confirmed killed according to Gaza health authorities.

Netanyahu said on Sunday Hamas would have to back down from its political demands to reach a deal.

“They’re in another planet. But if they come down to a reasonable situation, then yes we’ll have a hostage deal. I hope so,” he said.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri, speaking to Reuters on Monday, restated the principal Hamas demand: that a hostage release could come only as part of a wider settlement.

“Securing an end to the aggression, the withdrawal of the occupation, the returning of the displaced, the entry of aid, shelter equipment, and rebuilding are the guarantees for the success of any agreement,” Abu Zuhri said.

In a development that could have an impact on longer-term negotiations to end the conflict, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, which exerts limited civil control in parts of the West Bank, stepped down on Monday.

Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday he was resigning to allow for the formation of a broad consensus among Palestinians about political arrangements following the Gaza war.

The PA, recognised by the West as the official representative of Palestinians, lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007. Washington has called for reforms to the PA as part of an overall solution to govern Palestinian territories including Gaza after the war.

Comments

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Az_Iz Feb 26, 2024 09:46pm
Temporary ceasefire and the killing to resume later. Evil Zionists tactic.
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