June 16, 2024

Israel war cabinet to discuss new push for Gaza hostage deal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to convene his war cabinet Sunday to discuss the latest efforts towards a Gaza truce and hostage release deal, a senior official told AFP.

The news came despite more deadly Gaza fighting and a rocket barrage Hamas aimed at Tel Aviv that sent people scrambling for bomb shelters as air defences intercepted projectiles streaking across the sky.

US President Joe Biden has pushed for renewed international efforts to halt the Gaza war, and CIA chief Bill Burns on Friday met Mossad director David Barnea and Qatar’s prime minister in Paris.

While Israel’s main focus is to free the remaining hostages, Hamas has insisted on a permanent end to the war raging since October 7 — a demand Netanyahu has so far rejected out of hand.

An Israeli senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that “the war cabinet is expected to meet in Jerusalem tonight at 2100 (1800 GMT) to discuss a hostage release deal”.

The official had said Saturday that “there is an intention to renew these talks this week” after negotiations involving US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators had stalled in early May.

A member of the Hamas political bureau, Izzat al-Rishq, however said on Sunday that “regarding the rumours about negotiations, we have not received anything from the mediators” so far.

He insisted on Hamas’s long-standing demand for a permanent cessation of hostilities in all of Gaza as “the foundation and the starting point for anything”.

Rishq charged that Netanyahu is “trying to buy more time to continue the aggression” while seeking to create the “false impressions of his concern” for the Gaza captives and their families.

Shortly afterwards, Hamas’s armed wing the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades said they had targeted Tel Aviv “with a large rocket barrage in response to the Zionist (Israeli) massacres against civilians”.

Israel’s army said at least eight rockets were fired from Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah and that “a number of the projectiles were intercepted”, with no initial reports of casualties.

Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas to prevent any repeat of an attack of the kind the Palestinian Islamist group launched on October 7.

But he also faces strong pressure from families of the hostages — and from top ally the United States, where outrage over the Gaza war and US support for Israel has become a major issue for Biden in the election battle against Donald Trump.

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