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Israel and Hamas blame each other, with little sign of a breakthrough in ceasefire and hostage talks


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he “cannot accept” Hamas’ demands to end the war in Gaza as the two sides blamed each other amid new ceasefire talks that show little sign of showed a breakthrough.

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

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

There was some reason for optimism, with Egyptian media quoting an Egyptian official saying “significant progress” had been made in the negotiations. But the latest comments from Israel and Hamas show how far apart the two still are.

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

He reiterated that the delegation took “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.”

Vahid Salemi/AP

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh again demanded that Israel withdraw from Gaza.

However, Haniyeh, referring to the Israeli government, said that “the world has become a hostage to an extremist government, which has committed a large number of political problems and crimes in Gaza,” and accused the leaders of trying to “destroy the efforts delivered to sabotage”. through the mediators and various parties.”

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

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

“Hamas remained entrenched in its extreme positions, most importantly the demand to withdraw all our troops 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, retake control of Gaza, rebuild their military infrastructure and return to threatening the citizens of Israel in the surrounding settlements, in the cities in the south. , in all parts of the country.”

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

Amid the tense ongoing negotiations, a ground offensive is expected against the southern Gaza town of Rafah, where an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering after fleeing fighting in the north.

The US has tried to increase pressure on Hamas to accept the deal on the table, while also trying to prevent the Israeli army from advancing 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 locations across the Strip.”

Galant entered the enclave on 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 signals that Hamas does not in fact intend to conclude a headline agreement with us, meaning action in Rafah and the entire Gaza Strip in the near future,” Gallant said.

“We are right before an action, we are highly prepared, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) knows what to do, we are prepared for things and it will cover the entire strip from north to south, the entire area and in there. Rafa.”

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

The border crossing was crucial for getting aid into Gaza.

It was not immediately clear where exactly the rockets had landed in the area and whether any injuries or deaths had been reported. The Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, said they had targeted the border crossing with rockets.

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

In a post on X, COGAT said: “Hamas will do everything to prevent aid from reaching the people of Gaza. In recent days and in separate incidents, Hamas has fired mortars into the corridor for humanitarian purposes, disrupting the flow of aid from southern to northern Gaza and preventing residents from receiving humanitarian aid.”

A CNN contributor in Rafah, Gaza, said people there had become frightened because immediately after the rockets hit Kerem Shalom, artillery fire could be heard east of the city as Israeli fighter jets hit unspecified targets.