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Middle East crisis

Hamas vows to press on with Gaza ceasefire talks as humanitarian plight worsens

Hamas vows to press on with Gaza ceasefire talks as humanitarian plight worsens
Palestinians look at a destroyed house following Israeli airstrikes in the west of Al Nusairat refugee camp, Gaza Strip, 05 March 2024. More than 30,500 Palestinians and over 1,300 Israelis have been killed, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), since Hamas militants launched an attack against Israel from the Gaza Strip on 07 October 2023, and the Israeli operations in Gaza and the West Bank which followed it. EPA-EFE/MOHAMMED SABER

CAIRO/RAFAH, Gaza Strip, March 6 (Reuters) - Hamas said on Wednesday it was pressing on with efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza with Israel despite the absence of Israeli negotiators from talks in Egypt.

Negotiators from the Palestinian militant group, Qatar and Egypt are in Cairo trying to secure a 40-day ceasefire in the war between Israel and the Islamist group in time for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins early next week.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday it was in the hands of Hamas whether to accept a deal on the table for a ceasefire in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages.

“We are showing the required flexibility in order to reach a comprehensive cessation of aggression against our people, but the occupation is still evading the entitlements of this agreement,” Hamas said in a statement.

Israeli forces, aiming to eradicate Hamas following its deadly raid on Israel on Oct. 7, have continued bombarding Gaza during three days of talks in Cairo, and the dire humanitarian situation in the Palestinian enclave has deteriorated further.

“Every day costs us dozens of martyrs [dead]. We want a ceasefire now,” Shaban Abdel-Raouf, a Palestinian electrician and father of five from Gaza City, who is now in the southern city of Khan Younis, told Reuters via a chat app.

“Khan Younis is being burnt upside down, while America claims it wants to protect the civilians. Israel has been destroying houses and roads for months while we hear fake promises of an imminent ceasefire.”

Residents of Qatari-funded housing districts in Khan Younis reported explosions all night from the air and ground. Israeli warplanes also struck areas in Al-Nuseirat refugee camp and the city of Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza, and part of the southern city of Rafah, witnesses said.

Health officials in Hamas-run Gaza said the number of people confirmed killed in Israel’s offensive had now passed 30,700, with 86 deaths reported in the past 24 hours.

 

DEAL ON THE TABLE

The deal presented to Hamas would free some of the hostages it still holds following the Oct. 7 attack, in which Israel said 1,200 people were killed and 253 abducted.

Aid to Gaza would be increased to try to avert famine as hospitals treat acutely malnourished children, and Hamas would provide a list of all the hostages held in Gaza.

The United States on Tuesday revised language in a draft U.N. Security Council resolution to back “an immediate ceasefire of roughly six weeks in Gaza together with the release of all hostages”, according to the text seen by Reuters.

The third revision of the text – first proposed by the U.S. two weeks ago – now reflects blunt remarks by Vice President Kamala Harris urging Israel to do more to ease the “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.

The release of sick, wounded, elderly and women hostages would result in an immediate ceasefire in Gaza of at least six weeks, the White House said.

It said this would enable “a surge of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, and provide time and space to secure more enduring arrangements and sustained calm.”

In Beirut, Hamas official Osama Hamdan repeated his group’s main demands: an end to the Israeli military offensive, withdrawal of Israeli forces, and the return of all Gazans to the homes they had been forced to flee.

He said any exchange of prisoners cannot take place except after a ceasefire. Israel wants merely a pause in fighting to get hostages out of Gaza and more aid in, and says it will not end the conflict before Hamas is “eliminated”.

“It’s in the hands of Hamas right now. Israelis have been cooperating. There’s been a rational offer,” Biden told reporters.

Palestinian-Israeli violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories often spikes during Ramadan, as does hostility towards Israel in the Arab and Muslim world, creating a strong incentive for leaders to clinch a deal before then.

 

HAMAS SAYS IT HAS PRESENTED OWN DRAFT

Hamas says Washington’s stance is designed to deflect blame from Israel if the talks collapse.

Senior Hamas official Bassem Naim said Hamas had presented its own draft deal and was awaiting a response from Israel, and that “the ball now is in the Americans’ court”.

A source had told Reuters that Israel was staying away because Hamas refused to furnish a list of hostages who are still alive. Naim said this was impossible without a ceasefire as hostages were scattered across the war zone.

Famine looms over Gaza as aid supplies have dwindled to barely a trickle. Swathes of territory are completely cut off from food. Gaza’s few functioning hospitals, overwhelmed by the wounded, are now filling with children starving to death.

Gaza health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra said on Wednesday a girl of 15 had died in a Gaza City hospital from dehydration and malnutrition, describing her as the 18th such victim in just over a week. Reuters could not verify the deaths.

(Reporting by Jana Choukeir in Dubai; Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo, Bassam Massoud and Mohammed Salem in Rafah, Additional reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan in Cairo and Emily Rose in Jerusalem; Writing by Michael Perry and Timothy Heritage; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Sharon Singleton)

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