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Gaza talks mediators pushing to secure truce, Israel says


Efforts to secure a deal on a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza are ongoing, Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad, said on Saturday, despite dimming hopes for a truce during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Mossad chief David Barnea met on Friday with his U.S. counterpart, CIA Director William Burns, to promote a deal that would see hostages released, Mossad said in a statement distributed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office.

"Contacts and cooperation with the mediators continue all the time in an effort to narrow the gaps and reach agreements," Mossad said.

Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave, have traded blame over the apparent deadlock in talks in the run-up to Ramadan, which begins on or around March 10.

A Hamas source told Reuters the group's delegation was "unlikely" to make another visit to Cairo over the weekend for talks.

Egypt, the United States and Qatar have been mediating truce negotiations since January. The last deal led to a week-long pause in fighting in November, during which Hamas released more than 100 hostages, and Israel freed about three times as many Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas blames Israel for the impasse in negotiations for a longer ceasefire and the release of 134 hostages believed still held in Gaza, saying it refuses to give guarantees to end the war or pull its forces from the enclave.

Mossad said Hamas was digging its heels in and aiming for violence in the region to spiral during Ramadan. Israeli officials have said that the war will end only with the defeat of Hamas, whose demands Netanyahu has called "delusional."

In a statement on Saturday marking Ramadan, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh vowed the Palestinians would continue to fight Israel "until they regain freedom and independence."

Five months into Israel's air and ground assault on Gaza, health authorities there say nearly 31,000 Palestinians have been killed.

The war was triggered by an October 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed and 253 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

In Tel Aviv, thousands of Israelis attended rallies. At an anti-government protest, some demonstrators blocked a highway and were dragged away by police. The other was led by families of hostages who called for their loved ones' release.

"The pain and anger are still running through my blood," said Agam Goldstein, a teenager freed from Gaza with her mother and two brothers in November, addressing the hostage-related rally. "But I must put them aside and turn to you, Hamas – If you have any humanity left in you, release the hostages."

Charity workers loaded relief supplies bound for Gaza onto a barge in Cyprus on Saturday as part of an international effort to launch a maritime corridor to a Palestinian population on the brink of famine.

The United States also has said its military will build a temporary floating dock off Gaza's coast to bring in aid, though it does not envision the deployment of U.S. troops on the ground.

Israel was coordinating with the U.S. on the dock project for shipment of aid "after it undergoes full Israeli inspection," to be delivered to Gaza civilians through international organizations, said Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari.

Amid continuing tensions on the Israel-Lebanon border, where Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants have regularly exchanged fire, Lebanese security sources said an Israeli strike killed a family of five and injured nine people in southern Lebanon.

The Israeli military said it was looking into the report.


Stepping up pressure on the last area of Gaza it has not yet invaded with ground forces, Israel struck one of the largest residential towers in the southern city of Rafah.

The 12-floor building was damaged in the strike, and residents said dozens of families were made homeless, though no casualties were reported. Israel's military said the block was being used by Hamas to plan attacks on Israelis.

One of the 300 residents of the tower, near the border with Egypt, told Reuters Israel gave them a 30-minute warning to flee the building at night.

"People were startled, running down the stairs, some fell, it was chaos," said Mohammad Al-Nabrees, one of the residents.

The strike raised alarm among Gazans of a wider Israeli assault on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million people are sheltering.

Hamas on Saturday named four Israeli hostages as having died in Israeli strikes in the enclave, though it offered no evidence. The Israeli military, which declined to comment, has previously said such videos by Hamas were psychological warfare.

Israel's offensive has plunged Gaza into a humanitarian catastrophe. Much of the enclave is reduced to rubble and most of its population is displaced, with the UN warning of disease and starvation.

The death toll from malnutrition and dehydration has risen to 25 in Gaza, said Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesperson for Gaza's health ministry, including three children who died of dehydration and malnutrition at the northern Al Shifa Hospital overnight.

(Cover: Palestinians gather in front of a residential building hit in an overnight Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, March 9, 2024. /CFP)

Source(s): Reuters
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