Israel pounds Gaza as Cairo peace talks with Hamas continue

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A Palestinian child looks on at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip May 5, 2024. REUTERS/Hatem Khaled

By Nidal Al-Mughrabi Reuters

Hamas leaders held a second day of truce talks with Egyptian and Qatari mediators on Sunday, with no apparent progress reported as the Islamist group maintained its demand that any agreement must end the war in Gaza, Palestinian officials said.

One Palestinian official, close to the mediation effort, said the Hamas delegation had arrived in Cairo with a determination to reach a deal “but not at any price”.

“A deal must end the war and get Israeli forces out of Gaza and Israel hasn’t yet committed it was willing to do so,” the official told Reuters, asking not to be named.

Israel wants a deal to free at least some of the around 130 hostages held by Hamas but an Israeli official signaled on Saturday that its core position was unchanged, saying Israel would “under no circumstances” agree a deal to end the war, which it has pursued with the aim of disarming and dismantling Hamas for good.

Another Palestinian official told Reuters the negotiations are “facing challenges because the occupation (Israel) refuses to commit to a comprehensive ceasefire” but added that the Hamas delegation was still in Cairo in the hope mediators could press Israel to change its position.

As the latest talks were underway, residents and health officials said Israeli planes and tanks continued to pound areas across the Palestinian enclave overnight, killing and wounding several people.

The war began after Hamas stunned Israel with a cross-border raid on Oct. 7 in which 1,200 people were killed and 252 hostages taken, according to Israeli tallies.

More than 34,600 Palestinians have been killed and more than 77,000 have been wounded in Israel’s assault, according to Gaza’s health ministry. The bombardment has devastated much of the coastal enclave and caused a humanitarian crisis.

Qatar, where Hamas has a political office, and Egypt are trying to mediate a follow-up to a brief November ceasefire, amid international dismay over the soaring death toll in Gaza and the plight of its 2.3 million inhabitants.

Egyptian sources said CIA Director William Burns, who has also been involved in previous truce talks, arrived in Cairo on Friday. Washington – which, like other Western powers and Israel, brands Hamas a terrorist group – has urged it to enter a deal.

Israel has given a preliminary nod to terms that one source said included the return of between 20 and 33 hostages in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and a truce of several weeks.

That would leave around 100 hostages in Gaza, some of whom Israel says have died in captivity. The source, who asked not to be identified by name or nationality, told Reuters their return may require an additional deal.

Thousands of Israelis protested on Saturday, demanding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accept a ceasefire agreement with Hamas that would see the remaining hostages brought home.

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