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Hamas ‘open’ to more ceasefire talks: Palestinian official

Published : 08 Feb 2024 10:25 PM

Hamas still wants to discuss a ceasefire in its war with Israel, a Palestinian official close to the militant group told AFP Thursday, despite a rejection of its initial offer. 

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday dismissed the organisation's ceasefire proposal, calling it "bizarre" and vowing to press on with military action until "total victory".

The Palestinian official said a Hamas delegation would meet Egyptian officials in Cairo from Thursday, who would then work with Qatari representatives to find more common ground.

"We expect the negotiations to be very complex and difficult but Hamas is open to discussions and the movement is keen to reach a ceasefire," added the official, who is familiar with the negotiations.

"The two parties will hold several rounds of negotiations indirectly," he said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on this sensitive issue.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has met Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials on his latest visit to the region to try to broker a deal.

He called on Wednesday for Israel to tone down its rhetoric as the war, sparked by Hamas fighters' deadly attack on southern Israel on October 7, entered its fifth month.

On the Israeli side, some 1,160 people died, while 250 hostages were taken, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures. Israel says 132 are still in Gaza, and 29 are thought to be dead.

In Hamas-run Gaza, at least 27,840 people have been killed, the health ministry said Thursday, in Israel's retaliatory offensive. Civilians made up the bulk of casualties on both sides.

The Palestinian official based in Gaza said the talks in the Egyptian capital would concentrate on the first phase of a proposed ceasefire, which would last "about six weeks".

During that time, talks would take place about an exchange of hostages for women and children held in Israeli prisons.

"Hamas' response, which reached Egypt and Qatar and was seen by the United States and other parties, included an offer to release detained Israeli children, women, the elderly, and the sick," the official added.

"In return, Israel would release a number of Palestinian prisoners, which will be discussed starting today (Thursday)."

The first phase would include allowing 400 to 500 aid trucks carrying food, medicine and fuel to enter Gaza daily, with widespread concerns about a humanitarian crisis in the territory.

Talks during the first pause in fighting would look for a deal on the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Gaza and a return of the displaced, the official said.

"Hamas will insist that Turkey and Russia stand alongside Egypt, Qatar, the United States, and France to ensure the implementation of the agreement in all its stages, including a permanent ceasefire and the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip," the official added.