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Hamas Egypt-bound amid fears of Rafah catastrophe

Source: Sky News UK / X

A Hamas delegation will visit Cairo for talks aimed at securing a ceasefire, a Hamas official said, as mediators stepped up efforts to reach a deal ahead of an expected Israeli assault on the southern city of Rafah.

The official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters on Sunday that the delegation will discuss a ceasefire proposal handed by Hamas to mediators from Qatar and Egypt, as well as Israel’s response.

He did not disclose details of the latest proposals.

Another senior Hamas official told Reuters the delegation will fly to Cairo from Qatari capital Doha on Monday, adding it will be led by Khalil Al-Hayya, deputy to Hamas’ Gaza chief.

Meanwhile in Washington, chants of ‘shame on you’ greeted guests arriving for the annual White House correspondents’ dinner, captured by Sky News UK.

The talks will take place between the Hamas delegation and the Qatari and the Egyptian mediators to discuss remarks the group has made over the Israeli response to its recent proposal.

“Hamas has some questions and inquires over the Israeli response to its proposal, which the movement received from mediators on Friday,” the official told Reuters.

The comments suggest that Hamas may not hand an instant response to mediators over Israel’s latest proposal.

The war, now in its seventh month, was triggered by an attack by Hamas militants on Israel on October 7, killing 1200 and taking 253 hostages, by Israeli tallies.

Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas, which controls Gaza, in a military operation that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, 66 of them in the past 24 hours, according to Gaza’s health authorities.

The war has displaced most of the 2.3 million population and laid much of the densely populated enclave to waste.

On Friday, senior Hamas official Khalil Al-Hayya said the group had received Israel’s response to its ceasefire proposal and was studying it before handing its response to Egyptian and Qatari mediators.

Stumbling blocks

Prior rounds of talks have failed to bridge gaps in the two sides’ positions.

Hamas wants an accord for a permanent end to the war and for Israel to pull its forces out of the Gaza Strip.

Israel has only offered a temporary ceasefire to free around 130 hostages remaining in captivity and to allow the delivery of more humanitarian aid.

It has said it won’t end its operations until it has achieved its aim of destroying Hamas.

Israel’s foreign minister said on Saturday that a planned incursion into Rafah, where more than one million displaced Palestinians are sheltering, could be put off should a deal emerge to release the Israeli hostages.

The issue has created cracks in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition.

Hawkish ministers insist on the Rafah incursion while centrist partners have said a hostage deal is the top priority.

Hardline nationalist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Sunday urged Netanyahu not to back down from an assault on Rafah and said that agreeing to the ceasefire proposal would constitute a humiliating defeat.

Without eradicating Hamas, “a government headed by you will have no right to exist,” Smotrich, who is not a member of the war cabinet, said in a video statement addressed to Netanyahu.

Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz said in a post on X: “Entering Rafah is important in the long struggle against Hamas. The return of our abductees … is urgent and of far greater importance.”

Western countries, including Israel’s closest ally the United States, have urged Israel to refrain from attacking the border city on concern over potential civilian casualties.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said on Sunday that Israel had agreed to listen to US concerns before it launches an invasion of Rafah.

Washington has said it could not support a Rafah operation without an appropriate and credible humanitarian plan.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh on Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said only the United States could stop Israel from attacking Rafah.

He said he expected an attack on Rafah in coming days, saying even a “small strike” would force the Palestinian population to flee the Gaza strip.

“The biggest catastrophe in the Palestinian people’s history would then happen.”

—AAP

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