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Hamas says Gaza truce talks still deadlocked despite reports of progress

A Hamas official said that no progress had been made at a new round of talks in Cairo on a ceasefire in the Gaza war after the Egyptian hosts said headway had been achieved on the agenda.

Israel and Hamas sent teams to Egypt on Sunday after the arrival on Saturday of CIA Director William Burns, whose presence underlined rising U.S. pressure for a deal that would free Israeli hostages held in Gaza and get aid to Palestinian civilians. Qatari representatives also attended.

“There is no change in the position of the occupation (Israel) and therefore, there is nothing new in the Cairo talks,” the Hamas official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters. “There is no progress yet.”

Western powers have voiced concern over the high Palestinian civilian death toll and the humanitarian crisis arising from Israel’s military onslaught to destroy Hamas in the densely populated Gaza Strip.

Some 33,207 Palestinians have been killed in six months of conflict, Gaza’s health ministry said in an update on Monday. Most of the enclave’s 2.3 million people are homeless and many are at risk of famine.

Hamas killed 1,200 people in southern Israel in the cross-border attack on October 7 that triggered the conflict, according to Israeli tallies. The Israeli army says over 600 of its soldiers have been killed in combat since.

On Monday, a day after Israeli forces pulled back from some areas in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, Palestinian medical officials said their teams had recovered more than 60 bodies from areas where the soldiers operated in the past months.

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Hundreds of residents who had fled and been living in tents in the city of Rafah – where more than one million people were sheltering – returned to their devastated home areas.

Some rode on donkey carts, rickshaws and open-deck vehicles while some just walked. They were shocked at the destruction of buildings, roads and property they had left behind.

“It is a shock, a shock…the destruction is unbearable,” said resident Mohammed Abou Diab. “I am going to my house and I know that it is destroyed. I am going to remove the rubble to get a shirt out,” he added.

In Washington, a White House spokesperson said the United States was hoping to secure a hostage release deal as soon as possible since it would also lead to a ceasefire of around six weeks. Hamas is reviewing a new proposal now, John Kirby said.

A view of the rubble at the destroyed Al Shifa Hospital during an inspection by the World Health Organisation, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Gaza City in this handout image released April 6, 2024. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus/Handout via REUTERS

SOME PROGRESS?

In Jerusalem at the weekend, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz described the Cairo talks as the closest the sides have come to a deal since a short-lived November truce under which Hamas freed nearly half of its hostages.

Hamas seized 253 people during the Oct. 7 attack. Of those, 133 hostages remain captive and negotiators have spoken of around 40 going free in the first stage of a prospective deal with Hamas.

Two Egyptian security sources and state-run Al-Qahera News said on Monday some progress had been made in the Cairo talks.

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The security sources said both sides had made concessions that could help pave the way for a deal for a truce which would be staggered over three stages, with the release of any remaining Israeli hostages and a long-term ceasefire addressed in the second stage.

The concessions relate to the freeing of hostages and Hamas’ demand for the return of displaced residents to northern Gaza, they said. Mediators suggested the return could be monitored by an Arab force in the presence of Israeli security deployments that would later be pulled back, they added.

Delegations left Cairo and consultations were expected to continue within 48 hours, the sources and Al-Qahera said.

‘MAIN DEMANDS’

However, a Palestinian official close to mediation efforts told Reuters that deadlock continued over Israel’s refusal to end the war, withdraw its forces from Gaza, allow all civilians to return to their homes and lift a 17-year-old blockade to allow speedy reconstruction of the coastal enclave.

These steps took precedence over Israel’s prime demand for a release of hostages in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Regarding the exchange of prisoners, Hamas was and is willing to be more flexible, but there is no flexibility over our…main demands,” he said.

Israel has ruled out ending the war shortly or withdrawing from Gaza, saying its forces will not relent until Hamas no longer controls Gaza or threatens Israel militarily.

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Asked about the talks by reporters on Monday, Israeli government spokesman Avi Hyman would not go into detail, saying only: “The most important thing is that the right people are in the right place at the right time to discuss a way in which the 133 Israeli hostages can be released.”

Under global pressure to ease the humanitarian crisis and drop plans to storm Rafah, Israel said on Sunday it had withdrawn more soldiers from southern Gaza.

This left just one brigade there, but Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said the departing troops would be preparing for future operations, including “their coming mission in the Rafah area”.

Rafah is the last refuge for displaced Gaza civilians from Israeli ground forces and, according to Israel, the last significant redoubt of Hamas combat units.

By NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI and AHMED MOHAMED HASSAN

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