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Hamas is reviewing an Israeli proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza, as possible Rafah offensive looms

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Cairo, Apr 27 (AP) Hamas said on Saturday it was reviewing a new Israeli proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza, as Egypt intensified efforts to broker a deal to end the months-long war and stave off a possible Israeli ground offensive into the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said the Palestinian militant group was evaluating Israel’s proposal, and “upon completion of its study, it will submit its response.”

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He gave no details of Israel’s offer but said it was in response to a proposal from Hamas two weeks ago. Negotiations earlier this month centered on a six-week cease-fire proposal and the release of 40 civilian and sick hostages in exchange for freeing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Hamas’ statement came hours after a high-level Egyptian delegation wrapped up a visit to Israel where it discussed a “new vision” for a prolonged cease-fire in Gaza, according to an Egyptian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss the developments.

It was not immediately clear whether Israel’s latest response to Hamas on a cease-fire was directly related to Friday’s visit to Tel Aviv by Egyptian mediators.

The discussions between Egyptian and Israeli officials focused on the first stage of a multi-phase plan that would include a limited exchange of hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners, and the return of a significant number of displaced Palestinians to their homes in northern Gaza “with minimum restrictions,” the Egyptian official said.

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The mediators are working on a compromise that will answer most of both parties’ main demands, which could pave the way to continued negotiations with the goal of a larger deal to end the war, the official said.

As the war drags on and casualties mount, there has been growing international pressure for Hamas and Israel to reach an agreement on a cease-fire and avert a possible Israeli attack on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have sought refuge after fleeing fighting elsewhere in the territory.

Israel has been insisting for months it plans a ground offensive into Rafah, on the border with Egypt, where it says many remaining Hamas militants are holed up, despite calls for restraint from the international community including Israel’s staunchest ally, the United States.

Egypt has cautioned an offensive into Rafah could have “catastrophic consequences” on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, as well as on regional peace and security.

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The Israeli military has massed dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles in southern Israel close to Rafah and hit targets in the city in near-daily airstrikes.

Early Saturday, an Israeli airstrike hit a house in Rafah’s Tel Sultan neighbourhood, killing six people, including four children, according to officials at a local hospital.

The strike killed a man, his wife and their three sons, aged 12, 10 and 8, according to records of the Abu Yousef al-Najjar hospital’s morgue. A neighbour’s four-month-old girl was also killed, the records showed.

Hamas said Friday it is open to any “ideas or suggestions” that take into consideration the needs of the Palestinian people such as an end to Israel’s attacks on Gaza, the return of displaced people to their homes and an Israeli withdrawal.

The Palestinian group has said it will not back down from its demands for a permanent cease-fire and full withdrawal of Israeli troops, both of which Israel has rejected.

Israel says it will continue military operations until Hamas is defeated and that it will retain a security presence in Gaza afterward.

Hamas sparked the war with its attack into southern Israel on October 7, in which militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took some 250 people as hostages. Israel says the militants are still holding around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

Since then, 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s air and ground offensive, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza, around two-thirds of them children and women.

Israel has reported at least 260 of its soldiers killed since the start of ground operations in Gaza. (AP)





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