Hamas says no ‘major’ issues, as Gaza truce effort builds

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - JERUSALEM, April 29 — Hamas said yesterday it had no “major issues” after reviewing Israel’s latest proposal for a long-sought truce and hostage-release deal in the Gaza Strip after almost seven months of war.

A delegation from the Islamist movement will arrive in Egypt today to deliver the group’s response to Israel’s counterproposal, a senior Hamas official told AFP.

“The atmosphere is positive unless there are new Israeli obstacles,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“There are no major issues in the observations and inquiries submitted by Hamas regarding the contents” of the proposal, the official added.

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Israel’s government has come under intense pressure from global allies to reach a ceasefire in the war that humanitarians say has brought Gaza to the brink of famine, reduced much of it to rubble, and raised fears of broader conflict.

Protesters within Israel are demanding that the government secure freedom for hostages seized by militants during their October 7 attack that triggered the war.

Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been trying to mediate a new truce ever since a one-week halt to the fighting in November saw 80 Israeli hostages exchanged for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

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Hamas’ unprecedented October attack resulted in the deaths of about 1,170 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,454 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Israel estimates that 129 hostages are still being held in Gaza, including 34 the military says are dead.

Hamas has previously insisted on a permanent ceasefire — a condition Israel has rejected.

‘A complete failing’

However, the Axios news website, citing two Israeli officials, reported that Israel’s latest proposal includes a willingness to discuss the “restoration of sustainable calm” in Gaza after hostages are released.

It is the first time that Israeli leaders have suggested they are open to discussing an end to the war, Axios said.

A Hamas source close to the negotiations had told AFP the group “is open to discussing the new proposal positively” and is “keen to reach an agreement that guarantees a permanent ceasefire, the free return of displaced people, an acceptable deal for (prisoner) exchange and ensuring an end to the siege” in Gaza.

As diplomatic efforts intensified, US President Joe Biden spoke with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone yesterday and reviewed the ongoing talks, the White House said.

Countries hoping to broker a ceasefire are among those at a summit in Saudi Arabia, whose Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said the international community has failed Gaza.

“The situation in Gaza obviously is a catastrophe by every measure –- humanitarian, but also a complete failing of the existing political system to deal with that crisis,” Prince Faisal told the World Economic Forum (WEF) special meeting in Riyadh.

He reiterated that only “a credible, irreversible path to a Palestinian state” will prevent the world from confronting “this same situation two, three, four years down the line”.

Netanyahu’s hard-right government rejects calls for a Palestinian state.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority has partial administrative control in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, appealed at the WEF meeting for the United States to stop Israel from invading Rafah, which he said would be “the biggest disaster in the history of the Palestinian people”.

Israel vows to go after Hamas battalions in the southern Gaza city on the border with Egypt, but the prospect has raised global alarm because much of Gaza’s population has sought shelter there.

Protests

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who backs steps towards a Palestinian state, is among the high-ranking global officials due in Riyadh.

He will also visit Israel and Jordan on a trip through Wednesday, the State Department announced.

Gaza’s health ministry yesterday reported at least 66 deaths in the previous 24 hours, down from a peak this month of at least 153 deaths on April 9.

Israel’s military said its jets had struck dozens of targets.

Israeli demonstrators have intensified protests for their government to reach a deal that would free the captives, accusing Netanyahu of prolonging the war.

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

Yesterday two of his ministers opposed a truce deal. Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich wrote on X that if Netanyahu does not proceed with the Rafah operation his government “will have no right to exist”.

War cabinet member Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s main rival who has called for early elections, said Rafah “is important in the long struggle against Hamas”.

In February Netanyahu said any truce deal would not prevent a Rafah operation.

France seeks de-escalation

UN humanitarian agency OCHA has warned that “famine thresholds in Gaza will be breached within the next six weeks” if massive food aid does not arrive.

At a Rafah market, shoppers said prices of fresh vegetables have escalated.

Mohammed Sarhan, 48, said 100 shekels used to buy enough for a week, but now they “are not enough for one meal for my family”.

The White House said yesterday that a US-made pier meant to boost aid to Gaza will become operational in two to three weeks but cannot replace land routes.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on ABC News that Israel is letting in more trucks, in line with “commitments that President Biden asked them to meet”.

A cargo ship, the Jennifer, which left Cyprus carrying aid from the United Arab Emirates, was off Israel’s Ashdod port yesterday night, the vesselfinder.com tracker showed.

The Gaza war has led to increased violence between Israel and Iran’s proxies and allies, in particular the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah along the border with Lebanon.

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne, in Beirut yesterday, said “no one has an interest in Israel and Hezbollah continuing this escalation”. — AFP

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