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Top Qatari official urges Israel and Hamas to do more to reach a cease-fire deal

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TEL AVIV, April 28: A senior Qatari official has urged both Israel and Hamas to show “more commitment and more seriousness” in cease-fire negotiations in interviews with Israeli media, as pressure builds on both sides to move toward a deal that would set Israeli hostages free and bring potential respite in the nearly 7-month-long war in Gaza.

The interviews with liberal daily Haaretz and Israeli public broadcaster Kan were published and aired Saturday evening.

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They came as Israel still promises to invade Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah despite global concern for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians sheltering there, and as the sides are exchanging proposals surrounding a cease-fire deal.

Qatar, which hosts Hamas headquarters in Doha, has been a key intermediary throughout the Israel-Hamas war. Along with the US and Egypt, Qatar was instrumental in helping negotiate a brief halt to the fighting in November that led to the release of dozens of hostages.

The sides have held numerous rounds of negotiations since, none of which produced an additional truce. In a sign of its frustration, Qatar earlier this month said it was reassessing its role as mediator.

In the interviews, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majed al-Ansari expressed disappointment in both Hamas and Israel, saying each side has made its decisions based on political interests and not with the good of civilians in mind.

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“We were hoping to see more commitment and more seriousness on both sides,” he told Haaretz.

He did not reveal details of the current state of the talks, other than to say they have “effectively stopped,” with “both sides entrenched in their positions.”

“If there is a renewed sense of commitment on both sides, I’m sure we can reach a deal,” he said.

The Israeli journalists conducted the interviews in Qatar, which has no formal diplomatic ties with Israel.

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Relations between Qatar and Israel have been strained throughout the war, as some politicians in Israel, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have criticized Qatar for not putting enough pressure on Hamas.

Israeli legislators have also cleared the way for the country to expel Al Jazeera, the Qatar-owned broadcaster.

Al-Ansari’s remarks came after an Egyptian delegation had discussed with Israeli officials 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.

But the progress seemed minimal. The Egyptian official said Israeli officials are open to discussing establishing a permanent cease-fire in Gaza as part of the second phase of a deal.

“They showed willingness to do so but not commitment,” the official said. Israel has refused to end the war until it defeats Hamas.

The second phase would start after the release of civilian and sick hostages, and would include negotiating the release of soldiers, he added. Senior Palestinian prisoners would be released and a reconstruction process launched.

Hamas meanwhile said Saturday it was reviewing a new Israeli proposal for a cease-fire, which came in response to a Hamas proposal from two weeks ago.

Negotiations earlier this month centred on a six-week cease-fire proposal and the release of 40 civilian and sick hostages held by Hamas in exchange for freeing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

There is growing international pressure for Hamas and Israel to reach a cease-fire deal and avert an Israeli attack on Rafah.

A letter penned by US President Joe Biden along with 17 other world leaders urged Hamas to release the hostages immediately.

Hamas in recent days has released new videos of three hostages it holds, which appear to be meant to push Israel to make concessions.

Israel meanwhile has massed dozens of tanks and armored vehicles ahead of an expected offensive in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population is seeking shelter. The planned incursion has raised global alarm because of concerns over potential harm to civilians. The troop buildup may also be a pressure tactic on Hamas in the truce talks.

Israel sees Rafah as Hamas’ last major stronghold and has vowed to attack the militant group there in its bid to destroy its military and governing capabilities.

The war was sparked by Hamas’ attack on October 7 into southern Israel, which killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli authorities, who say another 250 people were taken hostage. Hamas and other groups are holding about 130 people, including the remains of about 30, Israeli authorities say.

Israel’s retaliatory assault on Hamas has killed more than 34,000 people, most of them women and children, according to health authorities in Gaza, who do not distinguish between civilians and combatants in their tally. The Israeli military says it has killed at least 12,000 militants, without providing evidence to back the claim. (AP)

 

 

 

 

 

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