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HomeworldHopes rise for Israel-Hamas truce deal as Gaza toll hits 20,000

Hopes rise for Israel-Hamas truce deal as Gaza toll hits 20,000

GAZA/CAIRO: Hopes rose on Wednesday (Dec 20) that Israel and Hamas may be inching toward another truce and hostage-release deal in the Gaza war, following talks in Europe and a visit to Egypt by the head of the Palestinian militant group.While some talked of a truce, fighting raged and Gaza’s Hamas government said the death toll in the Palestinian territory reached 20,000.Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there can be no Gaza ceasefire until Hamas militants are destroyed, but Washington expressed hope the truce talks can bring results.”These are very serious discussions and negotiations and we hope that they lead somewhere,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also voiced hope for a new pause in fighting.”We remain very actively engaged in seeing if we can get a pause back on and hostages moving out again,” he said.The comments came after Netanyahu, under pressure from Washington and other allies over civilian casualties, said fighting would not stop until all objectives are achieved: “The elimination of Hamas, the release of our hostages and the end of the threat from Gaza.”Late Tuesday he had told relatives of some of the remaining 129 captives held in Gaza that he had sent the head of the Mossad spy agency “to Europe twice to promote a process to free our hostages”.The bloodiest-ever Gaza war began when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct 7, killing around 1,140 people, mostly civilians, and abducting about 250, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.In response, Israel began a relentless bombardment alongside a ground invasion. Hamas says most of those killed in Gaza have been women and children.

PROTESTS

Netanyahu has faced protests from hostage relatives seeking an urgent deal to free the captives.”Every moment the hostages are there, is danger. They have no time,” said Ofir Engel, 17, a Dutch-Israeli former captive.Mossad director David Barnea held a “positive meeting” in Warsaw this week with CIA chief Bill Burns and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, a source familiar with the talks told AFP, asking not to be named.Talks were ongoing “with the aim of reaching an agreement around the release of the remaining hostages in Gaza in exchange for a truce and the potential release of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons”, said the source.Qatar, backed by Egypt and the United States, last month helped broker a first week-long truce that saw 80 Israeli hostages freed in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.The Qatar-based chief of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, arrived in Egypt for talks with that country’s intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.A Hamas official, speaking Wednesday on condition of anonymity, told AFP in Gaza that “a total ceasefire and a retreat of the Israeli occupation army from the Gaza Strip are a precondition for any serious negotiation” on a hostage-prisoner swap.The Egypt talks would focus on proposals including a week-long truce that would see the release of 40 Israeli hostages, a source close to Hamas said earlier.Before leaving Qatar, Haniyeh met Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian but no details were released.In Rafah, where fireballs and smoke rose after explosions, residents expressed hope that talks would succeed.”I wish for a complete ceasefire, and to put an end to the series of death and suffering. It’s been more than 75 days,” said Kassem Shurrab, 25.Bassil Khoder, 63, said a ceasefire would allow displaced Palestinians like him to return home but it would be good for Israelis too.”The Jews are also our neighbours,” he said. “We won’t give up on them.”

“ENOUGH”

An AFPTV live camera on Wednesday filmed two bombs hitting Rafah, in southern Gaza where many of the territory’s estimated 1.9 million displaced have fled.The Hamas health ministry said Israeli strikes killed at least 12 Palestinians when houses and a mosque in Rafah “were targeted”. It said later at least 30 more people were killed in an Israeli strike that hit two houses east of Khan Yunis.Crowds swarmed the rubble, digging with shovels and a backhoe to try to free the victims. One blackened body lay under a blue blanket on the blood-soaked ground.The army reported close-quarter combat and more than 300 strikes over the past day, while the death toll among its own forces rose to 134 inside Gaza.It said troops had uncovered a tunnel network used by Hamas leaders including Yahya Sinwar, the Islamist movement’s Gaza chief. The military released footage it said showed the “large network” around Gaza City’s Palestine Square linking hideouts and residences.

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UN VOTE

The UN Security Council again delayed a vote on a resolution calling for a pause to the war after members wrangled over wording. The vote is now scheduled for Thursday morning.The United States vetoed a previous ceasefire resolution.Israel, which declared a total siege on Gaza at the start of the war, has since allowed aid trucks through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and, as of this week, its own Kerem Shalom crossing.The World Food Progamme said Wednesday it had delivered food through Kerem Shalom in a first direct aid convoy from Jordan and warned of the “risk of starvation”.Fuel, water and medical supplies are also scarce, diseases are spreading, and communications have been repeatedly cut.An Israeli military agency, COGAT, said it had started laying a pipeline from Egypt to deliver drinking water from a mobile desalination plant in a project led by the United Arab Emirates.Visiting nearby Cyprus, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen expressed support for plans to send humanitarian aid to Gaza from the Mediterranean island.”We aim to create a fast track for humanitarian aid to Gaza through this corridor,” he said.The war has sparked fears of regional escalation, with exchanges of fire over the Lebanon border, and missiles from Iran-backed Yemeni rebels disrupting Red Sea shipping.

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