Hamas paves way for possible ceasefire

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza (AP) — Hamas has given its initial approval to a U.S.-backed proposal for a phased cease-fire in Gaza, dropping a key demand that Israel commit in advance to a full end to the war. the warA Hamas official and an Egyptian official said on Saturday, “This is not true.”

The apparent concession by the militant group, which took control of Gaza before sparking the war with its October 7 attack on Israel, could lead to the first cessation of hostilities since November and pave the way for further talks to end nine devastating months of fighting. But all sides have warned that a deal is far from certain.

In Gaza, the health ministry said an Israeli air strike on a school turned shelter killed at least 16 people and wounded at least 50 in the Nuseirat refugee camp. Children were among the dead and wounded. The Israeli military said it was investigating the report.

The two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations, said the interim agreement reached by Washington would begin with a “full and comprehensive” six-week cease-fire during which elderly, sick and female hostages would be released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. During those 42 days, Israeli forces would withdraw from densely populated areas of Gaza and allow displaced people to return to their homes in northern Gaza, the officials said.

During that period, Hamas, Israel and mediators will negotiate terms for a second phase that could see the release of the remaining male hostages, both civilians and soldiers, the officials said. In return, Israel would release additional Palestinian prisoners and detainees. The third phase would involve the return of any remaining hostages, including the bodies of those killed, and the start of a reconstruction project that would take years.

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Officials said Hamas still wants written assurances from mediators that Israel will continue to negotiate a permanent ceasefire agreement once the first phase goes into effect.

A Hamas representative told The Associated Press that the movement’s agreement came after it received “verbal commitments and guarantees” from mediators that the war would not resume and that negotiations would continue until a permanent cease-fire was reached.

“Now we want these guarantees on paper,” the actor added.

Months of ceasefire talks have faltered over Hamas’s demand that any deal include a complete cessation of hostilities. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered to halt but not end the fighting until Israel achieves its goals of destroying Hamas’s military and governmental capabilities and returning all hostages held by the militant group.

Hamas has expressed concern that Israel will resume the war after the hostages are released. Israeli officials have said they are concerned that Hamas will prolong the talks and the initial ceasefire indefinitely without releasing all the hostages.

Netanyahu’s office did not respond to requests for comment, and there was no immediate comment from Washington. On Friday, the Israeli prime minister confirmed that the head of the Mossad spy agency had made a whirlwind visit to Qatar, the main mediator, but his office said “gaps between the two sides” remained.

“For the first time in months, we feel hope,” said a statement from several of the hostages’ families. “Netanyahu, we have seen how deals are foiled time and time again in real time. Don’t you dare break our hearts again.”

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Israel launched the war on Gaza after Hamas militants stormed southern Israel in October, killing about 1,200 people – mostly civilians – and kidnapping about 250 others. Israel says Hamas is still holding about 120 hostages – about a third of whom are now believed to be dead.

Since then, the Israeli air and ground assault has killed more than 38,000 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s health ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count. The offensive has caused widespread destruction and a humanitarian crisis that has left hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of starvation, according to international officials.

The two officials said the ceasefire agreement would allow about 600 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid into Gaza each day, half of them bound for the hard-hit northern part of the territory. Since the Israeli assault on the southernmost city of Rafah, aid supplies entering Gaza have been severely reduced.

“We want to eat, but where do we eat? The country is exhausted. The country is miserable. It is unlivable,” said Walid Hijazi, a resident of the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza. “We feel sorry for the donkeys because we ate their wheat and barley.”

The Israeli bombing of Gaza continues.

The Hamas-run Interior Ministry said four police officers were killed in an Israeli air strike in Rafah. The ministry, which oversees the civilian police, said the officers were killed while on foot patrols. It said eight other officers were wounded. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to questions.

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In Deir al-Balah, funeral prayers were held for 12 Palestinians, including five children and two women, who were killed in three separate airstrikes in central Gaza on Friday and Saturday, according to hospital officials.

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This report was prepared by Magdy from Cairo, Egypt.

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Learn more about AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/Israel-Hamas-War

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