Israel and Hamas were moving towards a agreement to achieve a ceasefire and release the hostages held in the war-torn Gaza Strip, according to sources close to the negotiations, as meetings between the two sides continued in Cairo on Tuesday, after a series of failed attempts in recent weeks.
The dialogue continued to advance despite the fact that Israel intensifies its offensive on Rafahthe southern city of the enclave where 1.4 million displaced Palestinians have fled to take refuge from fighting in other areas.
The city of Rafah, at the southern end of the Strip, received artillery fire from the Israeli Army this Tuesday, for the first time since Israel announced a ground incursion into the area on Friday. The shooting began in the morning and came from Israeli tanks stationed in Israeli territory close to the border with the Strip, near the Kerem Shalom crossing, Gazan sources reported.
Israel rescued two captives of Argentine origin in the city near the Egyptian border on Monday in an operation that killed at least 74 Palestinians, according to local health officials, and left a trail of destruction.
An agreement would give the people in Gaza the respite they desperately need after five months of war and It would free the around 100 people who remain captive in the Palestinian enclave. As the war escalates, efforts mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt to forge a truce have been hampered by the starkly opposed positions of Hamas and Israel.
Israel has made the destruction of Hamas' government and military capabilities and the release of hostages its main objectives in this war, which began on October 7, after thousands of insurgents led by the ultra-Islamic terrorist group stormed southern Israel and killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took about 250 people hostage, including women and children, according to Israeli authorities. Tens of thousands of Israelis were forced to leave destroyed communities.
Israel's attacks continued this Tuesday on the city of Rafah, in southern Gaza. Photo: XINHUA
The war has caused unimaginable destruction in Gaza, with more than 28,000 dead, of which more than 70% are women and children, according to local health authorities. Vast areas of the territory have been devastated by the offensive, around 80% of the population is displaced and more than a quarter of the population has nothing to eat due to the serious humanitarian crisis.
The fate of the hostages
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised that the offensive will continue until “total victory” and insisted that a strong military presence in the enclave will guarantee the freedom of the hostages, an idea that, according to his allies, was reinforced by the mission. rescue on Monday.
But those freed, Fernando Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, are only the second and third captives rescued by their forces since the start of the war.
Other Israeli officials pointed out that only an agreement can achieve the release of so many hostages.
At the end of November, the two sides agreed to a brief truce in exchange for the release of about 100 people. Some 240 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel were also freed as part of the deal. According to Israel, some 30 hostages have died or been murdered during captivity and their bodies remain in Gaza. Three of the captives were killed by mistake by Israeli forces in December and a female soldier was freed on a rescue mission in the first weeks of the war.
A senior Egyptian official noted that the mediators achieved what he described as “relatively significant” progress in negotiations between Israel and Hamas ahead of a meeting to be held on Tuesday in Cairo by representatives of Qatar, the United States and Israel. He added that the head of Mossad – the Israeli intelligence service – David Barnea, was in the Egyptian capital.
The meeting will focus on “writing a final draft” to a six-week ceasefire agreementwith guarantees that the parties will continue negotiating to achieve a permanent cessation of fighting, the official added.
A Western diplomat in the city confirmed that a proposal for a six-week agreement was on the table, but warned that much work remained to be done to close the pact.
A building turned into rubble, after an Israeli attack in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, this Tuesday. Photo: BLOOMBERG
Tuesday's meeting would be crucial to bridge the gaps that remain for the two sides to sign a truce and embark on a dialogue for a definitive agreement, he added.
The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the sensitive conversations to the media.
New offensive and more deaths
Signs of progress came despite the fighting. Palestinians continued to count the victims of the Israeli rescue operation, which rose to 74 on Tuesday. Residents and displaced Palestinians searched through the rubble of the airstrikes that provided cover for Israeli ground forces.
While concern grew in Rafah about housing the Palestinians arriving en masse, Fighting continued throughout the Strip. The army said its troops were fighting insurgents in the territory's second-largest city, Khan Yunis, and in the center.
The Israeli army on Tuesday reported the death of three soldiers in combat, bringing its casualties to 232 since the start of the ground campaign in Gaza in late October.
The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry said Gaza hospitals received the bodies of 133 victims of Israeli attacks in the past day. With these, the number of deaths in the Strip since the start of the war on October 7 amounts to 28,473, added the department, which noted that there are more than 68,000 injured.