Hamas sends delegation to Egypt for new ceasefire talks

After months of on-again, off-again negotiations, ceasefire efforts appear to have reached a critical stage, with Egyptian and American mediators reporting signs of compromise in recent days.

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BEIRUT – Hamas said Thursday it would send a delegation to Egypt to continue ceasefire talks, in a new sign of progress in international mediators’ attempts to reach an agreement between Israel and the militant group to end the conflict. war in Gaza.

After months of on-again, off-again negotiations, ceasefire efforts appear to have reached a critical stage, with Egyptian and American mediators reporting signs of compromise in recent days. But prospects for a deal remain entangled with the key question of whether Israel will accept an end to the war without achieving its stated goal of destroying Hamas.

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What is at stake in the ceasefire negotiations became clear in a new UN report that said that if the war between Israel and Hamas stops today, it will still be necessary until 2040 to rebuild all the houses that have been destroyed for almost seven months of Israeli bombing and ground offensives in Gaza. He warned that the impact of the damage to the economy will set back development for generations and will only get worse with each month the fighting continues.

The proposal that American and Egyptian mediators have presented to Hamas – apparently with Israel’s acceptance – sets out a three-stage process that would bring an immediate six-week ceasefire and a partial release of Israeli hostages, but also negotiations on a “permanent halt” calm” that includes some form of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, according to an Egyptian official. Hamas seeks guarantees for a complete Israeli withdrawal and a complete end to the war.

Hamas officials have sent mixed signals about the proposal in recent days. But on Thursday, its supreme leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said in a statement that he had spoken with Egypt’s intelligence chief and “emphasized the movement’s positive spirit in studying the ceasefire proposal.”

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The statement said Hamas negotiators would travel to Cairo “to complete ongoing discussions with the goal of working toward an agreement.” Haniyeh said he had also spoken with Qatar’s prime minister, another key mediator in the process.

Brokers are hoping the deal will end a conflict that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, caused widespread destruction and plunged the territory into a humanitarian crisis. They also hope a deal will prevent an Israeli attack on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have sought refuge after fleeing battle zones elsewhere in the territory.

If Israel agrees to end the war in exchange for the full release of the hostages, it would be a major change. Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack stunned Israel, its leaders have vowed not to stop their bombing and ground offensives until the militant group is destroyed. They also say Israel must maintain a military presence in Gaza and security control after the war to ensure Hamas does not rebuild.

At least publicly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to insist that this is the only acceptable ending.

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He has vowed that even if a ceasefire is reached, Israel will eventually attack Rafah, which he says is the last Hamas stronghold in Gaza. He reiterated his determination to do so in talks on Wednesday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in Israel on a regional tour to push the deal.

The immediate fate of the deal depends on whether Hamas will accept uncertainty over the final phases to trigger the initial six-week pause in fighting, and at least postpone what is feared would be a devastating attack on Rafah.

Egypt has been privately assuring Hamas that the deal will mean a complete end to the war. But the Egyptian official said Hamas says the text’s language is too vague and wants it to specify a complete Israeli withdrawal from all of Gaza. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

However, on Wednesday night the news seemed less positive when Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official, expressed skepticism and said the group’s initial position was “negative.” Speaking to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV, he said talks were still ongoing but would stop if Israel invades Rafah.

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Blinken increased pressure on Hamas to agree, saying Israel had made “very important” commitments.

“There is no time for more haggling. The agreement is there,” Blinken said Wednesday before leaving for the United States.

Meanwhile, an Israeli airstrike killed at least five people, including a child, in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza. The bodies were seen and counted by Associated Press journalists at a hospital.

The war broke out on October 7, when Hamas militants swept into southern Israel and killed more than 1,200 people, mostly Israelis, and took another 250 people hostage, some freed during a ceasefire in November.

The war between Israel and Hamas was sparked by the Oct. 7 raid on southern Israel in which militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped about 250 hostages. Hamas is believed to still be holding about 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

Since then, Israel’s campaign in Gaza has caused widespread destruction and a humanitarian disaster, with several hundred thousand Palestinians in northern Gaza facing imminent famine, according to the UN. More than 80% of the population has been expelled from their homes.

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The “productive base of the economy has been destroyed” and poverty is increasing sharply among Palestinians, according to the report released Thursday by the United Nations Development Program and the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.

He said that in 2024, the entire Palestinian economy – including Gaza and the West Bank – has so far contracted by 25.8%. If the war continues, losses will reach a “staggering” 29% in July, he said. The West Bank economy has been hit by Israel’s decision to cancel the work permits of tens of thousands of workers who relied on jobs inside Israel.

“These new figures warn that the suffering in Gaza will not end when the war ends,” said UNDP administrator Achim Steiner. He warned of a “serious development crisis that endangers the future of coming generations.”

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Lee Keath reported from Cairo and Sam Mednick from Tel Aviv, Israel.

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