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Gaza cease-fire bids gain steam as US envoy visits. Mediators report ‘encouraging’ signs

International efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas appeared to gain new momentum on Thursday as the White House said a visit by a senior envoy with Israeli leaders was “going well” and other mediators reported encouraging signs from the warring parties.

Quick Read

  • International mediators are making progress in cease-fire talks between Israel and Hamas, with positive signs reported from both sides ahead of a Paris summit. The White House expressed optimism about the discussions, highlighting the urgency as Ramadan approaches.
  • New Israeli strikes in Gaza resulted in over 70 casualties, intensifying tensions in the region. In the West Bank, a violent incident at a checkpoint left one Israeli dead and five wounded.
  • Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant hinted at potential flexibility in hostage negotiations, while cautioning that military operations could intensify. Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s War Cabinet, has previously stated that without a hostage deal, Israel might launch a ground offensive in Gaza during Ramadan.
  • European foreign ministers and key mediators, including Egypt and Qatar, are working on a new cease-fire proposal, aiming to address key issues such as Palestinian prisoner releases and the displacement crisis in Gaza.
  • The ongoing conflict and the potential for escalated violence during Ramadan highlight the complex dynamics at play, with international efforts focused on achieving a sustainable peace agreement.

The Associated Press has the story:

Gaza cease-fire bids gain steam as US envoy visits. Mediators report ‘encouraging’ signs

Newslooks- JERUSALEM (AP) —

International efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas appeared to gain new momentum on Thursday as the White House said a visit by a senior envoy with Israeli leaders was “going well” and other mediators reported encouraging signs from the warring parties.

The new signs of progress came ahead of an expected summit this weekend in Paris, where mediators plan to present a new proposal. The U.S., Egypt and Qatar have been struggling for weeks to find a formula that could halt Israel’s devastating offensive in Gaza, but now face an unofficial deadline as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan approaches.

FILE – In this June 7, 2017, file photo, Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy for the global coalition against IS, speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Embassy Baghdad, Iraq. In late November, the sides agreed to one-week cease-fire. Hamas released over 100 of the 250 hostages it was holding, mostly women and children, while Israel freed 240 Palestinian prisoners. The sides blamed each other for the failure to extend the deal, and fighting has worsened since then. The White House’s national security spokesman, John Kirby, said Tuesday that a senior envoy, Brett McGurk, was in Cairo for talks on a “humanitarian pause” that would include a hostage deal. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)

White House Mideast envoy Brett McGurk held talks throughout the day with Israeli leaders and families of Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

“The initial indications we’re getting from Brett are these discussions are going well,” said White House spokesman John Kirby.

A Western diplomat involved in the efforts said both sides want a pause. “What we have heard from our partners is that they are willing to give concessions,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss closed-door diplomacy. “Time is pressing them.”

White House national security communications adviser John Kirby speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

In new fighting, Israeli strikes killed over 70 people in southern and central Gaza, Palestinian health officials said.

Tensions were also rising in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where three Palestinian gunmen opened fire on morning traffic at a highway checkpoint, killing one man and wounding five others, Israeli police said.

Palestinians mourn over relatives killed in the Israeli bombardments of the Gaza Strip at Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Israel declared war after Hamas militants stormed across the border on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking 250 others hostage. The Israeli offensive has left over 29,000 Palestinians dead, caused widespread destruction, displaced an estimated 80% of Gaza’s population and fueled a humanitarian disaster.

Roughly half of the hostages were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November. About 100 hostages remain in captivity, in addition to the bodies of 30 others who were killed on Oct. 7 or died in captivity.

A woman holds a mask depicting the faces of Shiri Bibas and her sons Kfir and Ariel, Israelis who are being held hostage in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group, during a protest demanding the release of the hostages from Hamas captivity, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. The activists participated in a performance called “Sorry we were kidnapped,” Participants wore masks with the faces of hostages in a desperate plea to return the approximately 100 hostages still held in Gaza. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Israel is demanding the release of the remaining hostages as part of any pause but has vowed to press ahead with the offensive until Hamas’ military and governing capabilities are destroyed. Hamas wants an end to the war, a full withdrawal of troops and the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners Israel is holding.

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on residential buildings and a mosque in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed the Hamas demands as “delusional.” But in recent days, Israeli leaders have begun to voice cautious optimism and Hamas has signaled it is softening its demands.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of Israel’s three-man War Cabinet, indicated some flexibility. “We will expand the authority given to our hostage negotiators,” he said.

At the same time, he warned that the Israeli army “is preparing the continuation of intense ground operations.”

FILE – Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, speaks during a joint press conference with his Greek counterpart Nikos Panagiotopoulos, at the Greek Ministry of Defence, in Athens, Greece, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas, File)

Benny Gantz, who sits on the War Cabinet with Gallant and Netanyahu, has said that if there is no hostage deal, Israel will launch a ground offensive into Gaza’s southernmost town, Rafah, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins around March 10.

A top Hamas official, meanwhile, voiced hope for “lots of breakthroughs” in the near future.

FILE – Palestinians line up for a free meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. The World Food Program said Tuesday it has paused deliveries of food to isolated northern Gaza because of increasing chaos across the territory, hiking fears of potential starvation. A study by the U.N. children’s agency warned that one in six children in the north are acutely malnourished. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair, File)

More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million is crowded into Rafah after fleeing fighting elsewhere in the territory. Israel has said it will evacuate them before attacking. But it is not clear where they would go, with much of the rest of the tiny Mediterranean enclave consumed in combat.

The U.S. has urged Israel not to invade Rafah – believed to be Hamas’ last major stronghold – without a plan to protect civilians. Kirby said that McGurk was pressing the Israelis for details.

The foreign ministers of 26 European countries on Thursday called for a pause in fighting leading to a longer cease-fire.


Both the Western diplomat and an Egyptian official said they have seen “encouraging” signs from Israel and Hamas.

The Egyptian official said Egypt, Qatar and the U.S. would craft a renewed proposal at the talks in Paris, expected on Friday or Saturday.

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on residential buildings and a mosque in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Thursday, Fe. 22, 2024(AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

He said mediators managed to water down demands of both sides, including the number of Palestinian prisoners Israel would release in return for women and elderly hostages during a preliminary six-week cease-fire. He said “the discussions are encouraging.”

He said another sticking point is whether displaced Palestinians could return to their homes in northern Gaza. He said Israel, which is still battling in areas of the north, was showing flexibility.

Palestinians mourn relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip at a hospital morgue in Rafah, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

He also said both sides agreed to continue indirect negotiations for a permanent cease-fire – something Israeli officials in public have ruled out.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official, said the negotiations were focused on “our people.” He called for Palestinians to be allowed to return to their homes in northern Gaza and a “redeployment” of Israeli forces from residential areas.

“If this is achieved, things can move on an excellent and good way,” he said. “Therefore we say there might be lots of breakthroughs in the near future.”

Israeli media said the War Cabinet agreed late Thursday to send a delegation to the Paris talks.

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