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Israeli authorities set to convene with representatives following discussions with intermediaries about potential ceasefire in Gaza conflict

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DEIR⁤ AL-BALAH, Gaza⁤ Strip‍ — A high-level meeting between Israeli Cabinet⁣ members and a delegation recently returned from Paris is​ anticipated to take place⁢ on ​Saturday. ⁤The⁣ delegation had been in talks with representatives from ⁢the United States, Egypt,​ and⁢ Qatar, aiming to ⁢broker ⁢a deal to halt the ongoing conflict in Gaza, according to ⁣an Israeli official.

The official, who chose‍ to‍ remain anonymous⁤ due ⁤to ⁢the sensitive nature of the‌ topic, suggested that Hamas, the⁤ militant group in ‍control of⁢ Gaza, had ​shown some flexibility on certain‍ demands, although no specifics were⁣ provided.

An Egyptian senior official, who is ⁢part of the mediation team between Israel and Hamas ⁣along with​ Qatar, revealed that the draft deal presented to the Israeli delegation proposed the release of ‍up to 40​ women ⁤and elderly hostages ⁢from Gaza. In ⁤exchange, ‍Israel would release up to 300 Palestinian prisoners, ⁣primarily women, minors,‍ and the elderly.

The official further explained that the proposed six-week ​ceasefire would allow ​hundreds of ⁢aid trucks to enter ​Gaza daily, including⁣ the northern half of the besieged territory. Both parties ⁤have agreed to continue negotiations during this pause, aiming for further releases and a‌ permanent ceasefire. The official, who also spoke on condition⁢ of anonymity, mentioned ⁣that‌ mediators are‍ awaiting Israel’s official response.

The negotiators are working against⁤ an unofficial deadline, which is the commencement ‍of the Muslim⁣ fasting‍ month of Ramadan, expected⁤ to start around March 10.

Osama Hamdan, ⁢a⁤ political official from⁤ Hamas, stated in ​Beirut on Friday that ⁣while the group ‍was not present at the talks, Israel⁢ had rejected its main demands. ⁤These included halting the⁤ “aggression” and withdrawing from⁣ the Gaza Strip.

The Health Ministry⁤ in Gaza reported on⁣ Saturday that hospitals had received⁤ the⁣ bodies of 92‍ Palestinians killed in Israeli bombardments over the past 24 hours. This brings the total death toll in nearly five ⁤months of war to 29,606, ‌with the number of wounded nearing 70,000.

The‌ ministry’s death⁤ toll ‍does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, but it has stated that two-thirds of those killed were children and women. Israel, on the other hand, claims its⁢ troops have ⁣killed more than 10,000 Hamas fighters, but ⁢has ⁣not provided further details.

An Israeli airstrike ⁤targeted a house in Rafah, the​ southernmost city‌ of ⁣Gaza, killing at least eight people, including four women ⁣and a child,‌ according​ to ​health authorities. An Associated Press journalist ​witnessed the bodies at Abu Youssef al-Najjar ‌hospital.

“Enough, enough. Either the Israelis or us should stop. There should​ be a truce,” pleaded Abdul-Qader Shubeir, a​ neighbor who was unable⁤ to immediately‌ extinguish ⁢the fire ‌consuming the bodies.

Brazil’s president, on‌ Saturday, accused Israel of committing genocide against⁢ Palestinians. This follows his controversial​ comparison last week of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza⁣ to the Nazi Holocaust, which resulted in⁢ the death of 6⁣ million Jews and others during​ World War ​II.

Israel has vehemently denied these genocide claims, both at ⁣the U.N.’s top court and elsewhere, stating that its war is ​against the militant group Hamas, not the Palestinian people. ‍It holds ⁢Hamas accountable for civilian deaths, ⁢arguing that the ⁣group operates ⁤from civilian areas.

“What ‍the Israeli ⁣government is doing is not war, it is genocide,” Brazilian President Luiz⁢ Inácio Lula ​da Silva​ wrote on X, formerly⁤ Twitter. ⁣”Children‍ and ⁣women are being murdered.”

In response to Lula’s ⁣initial comments, Israel declared him a persona ‌non⁣ grata, summoned Brazil’s ambassador, and demanded an apology. Lula responded⁣ by recalling​ Brazil’s ​ambassador‍ to Israel for consultations.

Last ‌month, South Africa filed a landmark case with the International Court of Justice, accusing Israel​ of⁣ genocide against Palestinians. The court issued a‍ preliminary ​order instructing Israel​ to do everything in its power to prevent⁤ death, destruction, and any acts of genocide in ⁢Gaza.

Israel, which was partly established‍ as a refuge for Holocaust survivors, accused South Africa of hypocrisy. South⁣ Africa has compared​ Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza ⁤to the treatment of Black ‍South⁤ Africans⁤ during apartheid, framing​ the issues⁤ as fundamentally about people oppressed in their homeland.

Israel declared war following⁣ the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel,‍ in which militants killed about ‌1,200 people and took around 250 hostages. More than 100 hostages remain in captivity in Gaza.

The escalating civilian death toll and worsening humanitarian crisis‍ in Gaza have led to⁣ increased calls for a ​ceasefire. Hunger and infectious diseases are⁣ spreading, and about 80% of Gaza’s‍ 2.3 million people‌ have been displaced, with ‍about 1.4 million crowded into Rafah on the border with Egypt.

“There​ are ​choking, skyrocketing prices. It’s terrifying. There is⁤ no source of income. The area is very overcrowded,” said Hassan Attwa, a displaced man from‍ Gaza City who now shelters in⁣ a ⁤tent on the sand in ‌Mawasi in the south.​ “The garbage, may God bless you, is not collected at all. It stays⁢ piled up. It⁤ turns into a mess and clay when⁣ it rains. The situation is disastrous⁤ in⁤ every sense‌ of the word.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged ⁣to fight until⁢ “total victory,” but is facing domestic pressure ⁢to secure the release of the remaining hostages.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu and ⁤his ​conservative government have drawn the‍ ire of the United States, its closest ally, over⁣ plans to build ​more than 3,300 new ‍homes⁢ in settlements⁣ in the Israeli-occupied⁤ West Bank.

Netanyahu’s outspoken finance ⁢minister, Bezalel Smotrich, stated that the plans were ⁢a response to ⁤a Palestinian ‌shooting attack earlier in the ‌week ‍that⁢ killed one Israeli and wounded five.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his disappointment​ on Friday upon hearing of the Israeli⁣ announcement. He​ described the new settlements as​ “counterproductive to‍ reaching an enduring peace” and “inconsistent with international law.”

The Biden administration also reinstated a U.S. legal ​finding‍ dating back nearly⁤ 50 years that Israeli⁢ settlements in the ‍occupied Palestinian ⁤territories are “illegitimate” under international ‍law.

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