Hopes for Gaza truce after Hamas says it will respond to Israel proposal

Israel AP - Fatima Shbair
AP - Fatima Shbair

A senior Hamas official told French media on Sunday that the group would deliver its response to Israel's latest counterproposal for a Gaza ceasefire on Monday in Egypt. International mediators have stepped up efforts to reach a deal ahead of an Israeli assault on the southern city of Rafah. 

The Israeli government has come under intense pressure to reach a ceasefire from its global allies, as well as from protesters within Israel demanding the release of hostages seized by Hamas during their 7 October attack that triggered the war.

A Hamas delegation will arrive in Egypt on Monday to deliver the group's response to Israel's new hostage and truce counterproposal, a senior official of the militant group told French news agency AFP.

Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been trying to mediate a new truce ever since a one-week halt to the fighting in November saw 80 Israeli hostages exchanged for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

Hamas has previously insisted on a permanent ceasefire – a condition that Israel has rejected.

However the Axios news website, citing two Israeli officials, reported that Israel's latest proposal includes a willingness to discuss the "restoration of sustainable calm" in Gaza after hostages are released.

It is the first time in the nearly seven-month war that Israeli leaders have suggested they are open to discussing an end to the war, Axios said.

A Hamas source close to the negotiations told AFP that the group "is open to discussing the new proposal positively".

The source added that the group is "keen to reach an agreement that guarantees a permanent ceasefire, the free return of displaced people, an acceptable deal for (prisoner) exchange and ensuring an end to the siege" in Gaza.

Protest rallies

A heated rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night was the latest held by protesters demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strike a deal that would see the hostages released.

Israel estimates that 129 hostages are still being held in Gaza, including 34 the military says are dead.

Just hours earlier, Hamas released a video featuring two of the hostages, Keith Siegel and Omri Miran, who appeared to speak under duress.

"Keep protesting, so that there will be a deal now," Miran said in the footage.

"We are in danger here, there are bombs, it is stressful and scary," said Siegel, a 64-year-old US citizen.

International pressure

The new hopes of a potential truce came as world leaders and humanitarian groups warned that a looming Israeli invasion of the southernmost city of Rafah would lead to massive civilian causalities.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas appealed to the US to stop Israel from invading Rafah, which he said would be "the biggest disaster in the history of the Palestinian people".

The US – Israel's main ally and weapons supplier – was the only nation capable of preventing Israel from "committing this crime", Abbas told a global economic summit in Saudi Arabia.

 Abbas spoke at a World Economic Forum (WEF) summit that opened Sunday in Riyadh, which US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and high-ranking officials from other countries trying to broker a ceasefire are also due to attend.

While there is no Israeli participation, the other key players will discuss the situation in Gaza, WEF president Borge Brende said.

There was "some new momentum now in the talks around the hostages, and also for... a possible way out of the impasse we are faced with in Gaza," he said.

(with AFP)