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Hamas offers response to Gaza truce plan as fighting rages

Palestinian men walk along a narrow street past destroyed buildings in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip
— Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

Hamas gave its official response to the latest truce proposal for Gaza on Tuesday, calling for a "complete halt" to Israeli "aggression" as fighting raged in the Palestinian territory.

The response came after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on his eighth Middle East tour since the October 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war, pushed the group to accept the deal.

"The response prioritises the interests of our Palestinian people and emphasises the necessity of a complete halt to the ongoing aggression on Gaza," Hamas said in a joint statement with Islamic Jihad.

A source with knowledge of the talks said Hamas proposed amendments to the plan, including a ceasefire timeline and the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

Talks were expected to continue via Qatari and Egyptian mediators, coordinated with the United States.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Hamas to accept the truce proposals, hours before Hamas sent its response

During his visit, Blinken said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had "reaffirmed his commitment" to the proposed six-week ceasefire, which was also backed by a UN Security Council vote.

"Everyone has said yes, except for Hamas," Blinken said. "And if Hamas doesn't say yes, then this is clearly on them."

Blinken then attended a summit in Jordan, alongside leaders from the Arab world and beyond, addressing Gaza's humanitarian crisis.

The Israeli siege has left Gaza's 2.4 million people without adequate food, clean water, medicines and fuel, pushing many to the brink of starvation. Only occasional aid shipments provide temporary relief.

- 'Carnage and killing' -

"The horror must stop," UN chief Antonio Guterres told the conference, voicing his support for the truce plan first outlined by US President Joe Biden late last month.

Family members mourn a man who succumbed to his wounds after Israeli bombardment, at the al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, on June 11, 2024

"The speed and scale of the carnage and killing in Gaza is beyond anything in my years as secretary-general," he told the gathering on the shores of the Dead Sea.

UN humanitarian coordinator Martin Griffiths labelled the Gaza conflict a "stain on our humanity" and called for $2.5 billion in funding until year-end.

Amid diplomatic efforts to address the crisis, Israel conducted further strikes on Gaza, resulting in casualties according to hospital sources.

The Israeli army said four soldiers were killed in the southern city of Rafah on Monday in what Hamas called a booby-trap explosion.

Israel has faced mounting international criticism over the escalating death toll in the conflict.

Relatives and friends grieve during the funeral of Israeli soldier Almog Shalom in Jerusalem on June 11, 2024, the day after he was killed with three other soldiers in the Gaza Strip

Health officials in Hamas-ruled Gaza reported 274 people were killed during an Israeli special forces raid on Saturday to rescue four hostages.

The UN human rights office expressed deep concern over the civilian casualties in the Nuseirat raid and said it was "deeply distressed" over the ongoing hostage situation in Gaza.

And on Monday the UN Security Council endorsed the three-phrase truce proposal Biden set out last month.

Netanyahu suffered a setback on Sunday when Benny Gantz, a centrist former army chief, quit his war cabinet, citing the lack of a post-war governance plan for Gaza.

Blinken met Gantz and opposition leader Yair Lapid, both of whom have been vocal critics of Netanyahu and his handling of the conflict.

Washington has also pushed for a "day-after" plan for Gaza, promoted a governance role for Hamas's rival, the Palestinian Authority, and urged steps toward a two-state solution.

Netanyahu and his far-right coalition partners reject the idea of Palestinian statehood, arguing it would endanger Israel's security and effectively "reward terrorism".

- 'Siege and destruction' -

Relatives and supporters of Israelis held hostage in Gaza rally in Tel Aviv during a visit by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

The war broke out after Hamas's October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages, more than 100 of whom were released during a November truce. After special forces rescued four captives on Saturday, 116 hostages remain in Gaza, though the army says 41 of them are dead.

The Israeli army launched a devastating offensive on Gaza that has left at least 37,164 people dead, the majority of them civilians, according to the Hamas-ruled territory's health ministry.

The latest Israeli deaths in Rafah took to 298 the military's overall losses in Gaza since its ground offensive began on October 27.

In Jabaliya, Soad al-Qanou said her young child Amjad was suffering from malnutrition, as aid shipments failed to adequately address Gaza's needs.

A Palestinian woman sits with a child at a camp for displaced people in Deir al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip

"This war has destroyed our lives and turned them upside down," she said. "There is no food, no drink. There is siege and destruction everywhere."

Violence has also surged in the already restive Israeli-occupied West Bank since the start of the war. On Tuesday, six people were killed during an Israeli army raid in the village of Kfar Dan, the Palestinian health ministry said.

Among aid pledges made at the Jordan meeting, the United States promised $404 million for food, water, health supplies and other aid.

A joint statement at the end of the summit called for "immediate, safe and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance and sustained provision and delivery throughout Gaza".

It also backed the "indispensable and irreplaceable role of UNRWA", the UN agency for Palestinian refugees which coordinates aid in Gaza but has been the target of severe criticism from Israel.

Blinken, hitting back at critics of US support for Israel, noted the UN appeal for the Palestinians was only one-third funded.

"Some who have expressed great concern over the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza, including countries with the capacity to give a lot, have provided very little or nothing at all," Blinken said, likely referring to US adversaries China and Russia.

"It is time for everyone -- everyone -- to step up."

The United States is the largest donor to the Palestinians. It also provides Israel with $3.8 billion in annual military aid.