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Israel and Hamas trade blame amid little sign ofbreakthrough in ceasefire and hostage talks

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Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he “cannot accept” Hamas’ demands to end the war in Gaza as the two sides traded blame amid fresh ceasefire talks that showed little sign of a breakthrough.

Discussions are thought to have centered around a new framework, proposed by Cairo, that calls for the militant group to release hostages kidnapped from Israel in exchange for a pause in hostilities in Gaza.

A Hamas delegation has now left Egypt after the latest round of gruelling months of talks, saying “in-depth and serious discussions took place.”

There had been some cause for optimism, with Egyptian media citing an Egyptian official as saying there had been “significant progress” in negotiations. But the latest comments from Israel and Hamas show how far apart the two remain.

On Sunday, Hamas’ political bureau leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the group was “still keen” to reach an agreement with mediators but that any proposal would have to guarantee Israeli withdrawal and cease fighting in the enclave permanently.

He reiterated that the delegation carried “positive and flexible positions” aimed at stopping “the aggression against our people, which is a fundamental and logical position that lays the foundation for a more stable future.”

However, referring to the Israeli government, Haniyeh said that “the world has become a hostage to an extremist government, which has a huge number of political problems and crimes committed in Gaza,” and accused its leadership of seeking to “sabotage the efforts made through the mediators and various parties.”

Netanyahu in turn accused Hamas of making unacceptable demands in the Cairo talks, adding that Israel had “demonstrated a willingness to go a long way” in the negotiations.

He said Hamas’s demand that Israel withdraw from Gaza was out of the question.

“Hamas remained entrenched in its extreme positions, chief among them the demand to withdraw all our forces from the strip, end the war, and leave Hamas intact,” he said. “The State of Israel cannot accept this.”

“We are not ready to accept a situation in which the Hamas battalions come out of their bunkers, take control of Gaza again, rebuild their military infrastructure, and return to threatening the citizens of Israel in the surrounding settlements, in the cities of the south, in all parts of the country.”

“Israel will not agree to Hamas’s demands, which mean surrender, and will continue the fighting until all its goals are achieved,” Netanyahu said.

“Several alternatives and scenarios were proposed to overcome the main point of contention related to ending the war,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to address the media.

The source also confirmed that the Hamas delegation is set to leave Cairo for Doha on Sunday evening “to conduct internal consultations on what was discussed during the round of negotiations in Cairo.”

Looming offensive in Rafah

Amid the tense ongoing negotiations is an expected ground offensive on the southern Gazan city of Rafah, where about 1.5 million Palestinians are estimated to be sheltering after fleeing fighting in the north.

The US has sought to increase the pressure on Hamas to accept the deal on the table, while also trying to prevent the Israeli military from moving towards Rafah. Most recently, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held another round of high-stakes talks in Israel on Wednesday.

However, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told troops on Sunday to expect “intense action in Rafah in the near future, and in other places all over the strip.”

Galant entered the enclave Sunday morning, according to the Defense Ministry, where he told soldiers that Israel was “committed to the elimination of Hamas and the release of the hostages.”

“We recognize alarming signs that Hamas actually does not intend to go to any outline agreement with us, the meaning of this – action in Rafah and the entire Gaza Strip in the near future,” Gallant said.

“We are just before an action, we’re in high readiness, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) knows what to do, we are prepared for things and it will encompass the entire strip from north to south, all the area and within it Rafah.”

On Sunday, six Palestinians – including two women and three children – were killed in an airstrike on Rafah, according to a medical source at Abu Yousuf Al-Najaf Hospital.

The source said the airstrike struck a house belonging to the Al-Attar family in the Yabna camp in central Rafah.

Rocket barrage near Kerem Shalom

Meanwhile, Israel closed the Kerem Shalom border crossing to humanitarian trucks after it was hit by at least 10 rockets on Sunday morning, according to the IDF.

The crossing has been central to getting aid into Gaza.

It wasn’t immediately clear where exactly the rockets had landed in the area or if there were any injuries or fatalities. The Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said it had targeted the crossing with rockets.

Following the rocket barrage, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) blamed Hamas aid not reaching the besieged strip.

In a post on X, COGAT said: “Hamas will do anything to prevent aid from reaching the people of Gaza. Over the last few days and in separate incidents: Hamas shot mortars at the corridor for humanitarian purposes, disrupted aid from traveling from southern to northern Gaza, and prevented residents from receiving humanitarian aid.”

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