Israeli hostages status hangs over Gaza truce talkson March 3, 2024 at 8:44 pm

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A Hamas delegation is understood to be in Cairo, but the Israelis want more details about captives in Gaza.

Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike during a military operation in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip, 1 MarchImage source, EPA

Mediators and Hamas have arrived in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, for talks on a new ceasefire, as Israel is reported to be demanding reassurances on the hostages’ fate before attending.

An unnamed US official has said Israel has “more or less accepted” the deal.

But Israeli media say Hamas is refusing to confirm which of its hostages are still alive, so Israel will not attend.

The US says the six-week pause would see the release of more Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners.

Delegates from Qatar and the US are also understood to be in Egypt.

Pressure for a deal intensified after Thursday’s incident outside Gaza City in the north of the territory where at least 112 people were killed as crowds rushed an aid convoy.

Hamas has accused Israel of shooting at civilians as they attempted to get food. Israel has denied this.

On Sunday, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Rear Adm Daniel Hagari said an initial review had been completed “of the unfortunate incident where Gazan civilians were trampled to death and injured as they charged to the aid convoy.

“Our initial review has confirmed that no strike was carried out by the IDF towards the aid convoy,” he said. “Several looters approached our forces and posed an immediate threat to them.”

He said a full investigation would be conducted by “an independent, professional and expert body” of the army, and updates would be shared in the coming days.

The Israeli account is disputed. BBC Verify spoke to witnesses, who described being shot at.

Dr Mohamed Salha, interim hospital manager at al-Awda hospital, where many of the dead and injured were taken, told the BBC: “Al-Awda hospital received around 176 injured people…142 of these cases are bullet injuries and the rest are from the stampede and broken limbs in the upper and lower body parts.”

Hamas is reported to have said that an agreement on a truce could be reached within the next 24 to 48 hours, with a source from the group telling Egyptian media a deal depended on Israel agreeing to its demands.

Egyptian officials, who have been running the talks with Qatar, said delegations from both Hamas and Israel were expected to attend the negotiations.

Expectations of a deal were raised after a senior US official said Israel for its part had “basically agreed” a framework for a six-week ceasefire.

The Israel military launched a large-scale air and ground campaign to destroy Hamas after its gunmen killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel on 7 October and took 253 back to Gaza as hostages.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says at least 30,410 people, including 21,000 children and women, have been killed in Gaza since then with some 7,000 missing and 71,700 injured.

Calls for ceasefire come as aid organisations have warned there is a risk of famine in northern Gaza.

Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, has just returned from a three-day visit to the territory.

“I was prepared for nightmare, but it is worse, much worse,” Mr Egeland told the BBC on Sunday.

“People want to take your hand… saying ‘we are starving, we are dying here’.

“I think there is famine in the north,” he said, adding that there had been no aid for 300,000 people living in ruins, with Israel not allowing any through.

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After Thursday’s aid convoy incident, the US carried out its first airdrop of humanitarian aid for Gaza, with more than 30,000 meals parachuted in by three military planes on Saturday.

Elsewhere, Israel said on Sunday it carried out an intensive wave of air strikes in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. The number of casualties is not known.

At least 11 people were killed in an Israeli air strike at a camp for displaced people in Rafah in southern Gaza on Saturday, according to Hamas.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the attack “outrageous”.

The Israeli army said it had carried out a “precision strike” against Islamic Jihad militants in the area.

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