Skip to main content

Hamas, Israel discuss Gaza truce

A Palestinian family rides on a donkey-drawn carriage between damaged buildings in Khan Yunis on April 8, 2024 after Israel pulled its ground forces out of the southern Gaza Strip
— Gaza Strip (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

Hamas said Monday it is studying a proposal for a truce and hostage-prisoner swap after talks in Cairo, as Israel's defence minister said it is the right time for a deal, six months into the Gaza war.

Israel is under growing international pressure to agree a ceasefire, including from its top ally and arms supplier the United States, and faces mounting calls to refrain from a threatened offensive against the teeming southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Late Monday a Hamas source close to the negotiations said the group was reviewing a proposal that would see a six-week truce and Israeli women and child hostages from its October 7 attacks freed in exchange for up to 900 Palestinian prisoners.

The source, asking for anonymity, said the first phase would also involve the return of displaced Palestinian civilians to northern Gaza, and the delivery of 400 to 500 trucks of food aid daily to the territory, where the United Nations has warned of imminent famine.

A man rides a bicycle past destroyed buildings in Khan Yunis on April 7, 2024

Amid the negotiations, however, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a date had been set for sending troops into Gaza's southern Rafah city.

"It will happen -- there is a date," Netanyahu said in a video statement which did not specify the timing. He insists "victory" over Hamas militants in Gaza requires troops to go into Rafah, where around 1.5 million people have sought shelter.

The prospect of a Rafah invasion has alarmed world leaders and humanitarians. After Netanyahu's comment, the US State Department reiterated that an invasion would have "an enormously harmful effect" on civilians, and ultimately Israeli security.

The leaders of France, Egypt and Jordan also warned Israel the Rafah offensive would have "dangerous consquences" and urged an immediate ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas.

"Such an offensive will only bring more death and suffering, heighten the risks and consequences of mass forcible displacement of the people of Gaza and threaten regional escalation," France's President Emmanuel Macron, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan's King Abdullah II wrote in a joint editorial published in several newspapers.

- 'Shocked' -

A day earlier, Israel announced the withdrawal of forces from Khan Yunis city, north of Rafah, prompting thousands of displaced Palestinians to trudge back through an apocalyptic landscape of dust and destruction.

"I am shocked at what I saw," said Umm Ahmad al-Fagawi. "All the houses are destroyed, not only mine but also those of all the neighbours around us," she said.

This picture released by the Israeli army on April 8, 2024 shows soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas

The health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said at least 38 more people were killed over the previous day.

Witnesses told AFP that Israeli air strikes and artillery fire hit north and central Gaza, as well as Rafah where Israel has regularly bombed targets even ahead of any invasion there.

The war began with the October 7 attack against Israel by Hamas militants that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show.

Palestinian militants also took more than 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 the army says are dead.

- Intense pressure -

Netanyahu is under intense pressure at home from families and supporters of hostages, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel launched a retaliatory offensive that has killed at least 33,207 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to Hamas-run Gaza's health ministry.

Map of the Gaza Strip

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said troops left Khan Yunis after months of fighting to "prepare for future missions, including... in Rafah" on the Egyptian border.

Amid the threats and fighting, Netanyahu has sent negotiators to truce talks that started in Cairo on Sunday, joined by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

US President Joe Biden dispatched CIA chief Bill Burns to the talks, three days after a tense phone call with Netanyahu in which Biden demanded a halt to the fighting and greater steps to protect Gaza civilians.

His demands followed an April 1 Israeli drone strike which killed seven aid workers for the US-based charity World Central Kitchen, increasing global outrage against Israel.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said negotiators had presented Hamas with a proposal for a ceasefire deal and "it's going to be up to Hamas to come through."

A person holds a handful of spent bullet casings in Khan Yunis on April 7, 2024 after Israel pulled its ground forces out of the southern Gaza Strip

Egypt's state-linked news outlet Al-Qahera reported "significant progress being made on several contentious points", citing an unnamed high-ranking Egyptian source.

The Qatari and Hamas delegations left Cairo and were expected to return "within two days to finalise the terms of the agreement", it said, while the US and Israeli teams were also planning consultations.

Gallant on Monday told Israeli army recruits that, "I think we are at an appropriate moment" to do a deal with the Islamist militants.

"The relentless pressure on Hamas and the position of strength from which we come into this campaign, allow us flexibility and freedom of action," he added, according to a statement from his office.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid, on a visit to Washington, said a hostage deal would be "difficult" but "it's doable and therefore needs to be made."

- Body parts -

Majed al-Ansari, spokesman for Qatar's foreign ministry, told the BBC he was "more optimistic today than I was a couple of days ago" but added: "We are by no means at the last stretch of the talks."

A siege has deprived Gazans of water, food and other basic supplies -- the dire shortages only minimally eased by aid trucks and, in recent weeks, airdropped relief supplies.

In their editorial, the French, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders called for a "massive increase" in aid being allowed into Gaza.

"The war in Gaza and the catastrophic humanitarian suffering it is causing must end now," they wrote.