Israeli official says Hamas demand for end to war ‘thwarting’ truce efforts

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - JERUSALEM, May 5 — A top Israeli official said yesterday that Hamas’s continued demand for a lasting ceasefire in the war in Gaza was stymying prospects of reaching a truce.

“So far, Hamas has not given up its demand to end the war, thus thwarting the possibility of reaching an agreement,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The official rejected reports that Israel had agreed to end the war as part of a deal to free the hostages held by Gaza militants.

The official said suggestions Israel was prepared to allow mediators to provide Hamas with guarantees of an end to the war were also “not accurate”.

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The official’s comments came after Hamas negotiators returned to Egypt on Saturday to give their response to a proposed pause in the nearly seven-month war.

Mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been waiting for Hamas to respond to a proposal that would halt fighting for 40 days and exchange hostages for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, according to details released by Britain.

Despite months of shuttle diplomacy between the warring parties, the mediators have been unable to broker a new truce like the week-long ceasefire that saw 105 hostages released last November, the Israelis among them in exchange for Palestinians held by Israel.

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Thousands of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv late Saturday demanding a deal to free the remaining hostages. They waved Israeli flags and placards calling on the government to “Bring them Home!”.

Israel says 128 hostages remain in Gaza. The army says 35 of them are presumed dead.

On Saturday, shortly before 9pm, a senior Hamas source close to the negotiations in Cairo told AFP there had been “no developments” and the day’s talks “have ended”.

“Tomorrow, a new round will begin,” the source said.

Earlier, the Israeli official had said Israel would not send a negotiating team to Cairo until it saw “positive movement” on the framework for a hostage deal.

“What we are looking at is an agreement over a framework for a possible hostage deal,” the official said.

“Tough and long negotiations are expected for an actual deal.”

Hamas has said the main stumbling block is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence on sending ground troops into Rafah, the south Gaza city that is packed with displaced civilians.

Washington has said repeatedly that it opposes any military operation in Rafah that endangers the 1.2 million civilians sheltering there. — AFP

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