Israel-Gaza truce talks ramp up as heavy fighting rages

Cairo, Egypt – Egypt on Sunday hosted envoys for talks on a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the latest diplomatic effort as Gaza officials reported more deadly bombardment in the nearly five-month-long war.

A funeral for Palestinian twins Wesam and Naeem Abu Anza, who were born during the conflict between Israel and Hamas and were killed in Israeli air strikes, in Rafah on Sunday.
A funeral for Palestinian twins Wesam and Naeem Abu Anza, who were born during the conflict between Israel and Hamas and were killed in Israeli air strikes, in Rafah on Sunday.  © REUTERS

A senior Hamas official told AFP that a delegation from the Palestinian group would discuss with mediators a proposal for a six-week truce, after a US official said Israel had broadly accepted its terms.

Envoys from the US, Qatar, and Hamas have arrived in Cairo, Egyptian state-linked media reported, as all sides have been scrambling to lock in a truce before Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month that begins on March 10 - 11.

The Hamas official said that if Israel were to meet its demands – which have included a military withdrawal from Gaza and stepped-up humanitarian aid – this would "pave the way for an agreement within the next 24-48 hours."

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A US official, speaking to reporters late Saturday, said "there's a framework deal" for a ceasefire which could start "today if Hamas agrees to release" elderly, women, and ill hostages. According to Israel, 130 hostages remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, after Hamas' unprecedented attack on October 7 that killed about 1,160 people in Israel. Over 30,000 people have been reportedly killed in Israel's military operation in Gaza in response.

Israel had yet to confirm that it has accepted the truce plan or whether it would attend the Cairo talks.

The health ministry in the Gaza Strip said at least 90 Palestinians had been killed in the past 24 hours, including 14 family members whose house in the southern Rafah refugee camp had been hit. Two of them, twin babies Naeem and Wissam Abu Anza, were buried on Sunday, an AFP photographer said, as their mother Rania was crying in agony. Relative Shehda Abu Anza said there were "only civilians" at the family home.

"All of them were sleeping when suddenly a missile hit and destroyed the whole house," he told AFP while family members and other residents searched the rubble with their bare hands for bodies and also to salvage food.

In a sign of the worsening humanitarian crisis in the narrow coastal territory, ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said at least 16 children had died of malnutrition in recent days as "famine spreads" in the north.

Will there be a ceasefire in Gaza?

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli airstrike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip March 3, 2024. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli airstrike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip March 3, 2024. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem  © REUTERS

As Gaza faces dwindling deliveries of relief supplies across its land borders, Israel's top ally the US carried out a first airdrop, joining several Arab and European government that have parachuted in aid since November.

But officials and aid groups have said such operations are limited in scope and cannot replace overland aid access. The Hamas official said the group would demand "the entry of at least 400 to 500 trucks per day" carrying food, medicine and fuel as part of a truce deal.

The US regards Hamas as a "terrorist" organization, and in previous talks Egyptian officials have acted as intermediaries. Osama Hamdan, a Lebanon-based Hamas official, told Qatar's Al-Araby TV that the group insisted on a complete, rather than "temporary," ceasefire and on "ending the aggression against our people".

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The UN Security Council voiced concern over "alarming levels of acute food insecurity", highlighted by a desperate rush for aid from a convoy of trucks in Gaza City on Thursday that ended in the deaths of dozens of Palestinians.

An AFP correspondent in southern Gaza, near the border with Egypt, said several air strikes hit Rafah and Khan Yunis during the night. The Hamas government media office also reported intense tank shelling in northern Gaza.

The Israeli military said its forces had carried out "an extensive series of strikes on terror targets" in Khan Yunis, south Gaza's main city that has become the focus of fighting in recent weeks. About 50 targets including "underground terrorist infrastructure" and military sites were hit "within six minutes", the army said.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced mounting calls to secure the release of the remaining hostages, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.

Rallies were held on Saturday in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where a relative of one of the captives said he hoped freeing them was a top priority.

Cover photo: REUTERS

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