Israel and Hamas making progress in cease-fire and hostage-release talks, officials say

Israeli soldiers drive an tanks on the border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. The army is battling Palestinian militants across Gaza in the war ignited by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack into Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)


Israel and Hamas are making progress toward another cease-fire and hostage-release deal, officials said Tuesday, as negotiations went on and Israel threatened to expand its offensive to Gaza’s southern edge, where some 1.4 million Palestinians have sought refuge.

The talks continued in Egypt a day after Israeli forces rescued two captives in Rafah, the packed southern town along the Egyptian border, in a raid that killed at least 74 Palestinians, according to local health officials, and caused heavy destruction. The operation offered a glimpse of what a full-blown ground advance might look like.

A cease-fire deal, on the other hand, would give people in Gaza a desperately needed respite from the war, now in its fifth month, and offer freedom for at least some of the estimated 100 people still held captive in Gaza. Qatar, the United States and Egypt have sought to broker a deal in the face of starkly disparate positions expressed publicly by both Israel and Hamas.

Israel has made destroying Hamas’ governing and military capabilities and freeing the hostages the main goals of its war, which was launched after thousands of Hamas-led militants rampaged through southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 people captive. Tens of thousands of Israelis were displaced from destroyed communities.

The war has brought unprecedented destruction to the Gaza Strip, with more than 28,000 people killed, more than 70% of them women and minors, according to local health officials. Vast swaths of the territory have been flattened by Israel’s offensive, around 80% of the population has been displaced and a humanitarian catastrophe has pushed more than a quarter of the population toward starvation.

In other developments, South Africa, which has lodged genocide allegations against Israel at the International Court of Justice, said Tuesday that it filed an “urgent request” with the court to consider whether Israel’s military operations in Rafah constitute a breach of provisional orders handed down by the justices last month. Those orders called on Israel to take greater measures to spare civilians.

Israel has adamantly denied the genocide allegations and says it is carrying out operations in accordance with international law. It blames Hamas for the high death toll because the militants operate in dense residential areas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press on until “total victory,” and has insisted that military pressure will help free the hostages. But the rescued hostages, 60-year-old Fernando Marman and 70-year-old Louis Har, were just the second and third captives to be freed by the military since the war erupted.

Other Israeli officials have said only a deal can bring about the release of large numbers of hostages.

Over 100 were freed in exchange for 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel during a week long truce last year. Three hostages were killed erroneously by Israeli forces in December and one female Israeli soldier was freed in a rescue mission in the early weeks of the war. Israeli officials say around 30 hostages taken on Oct. 7 have died, either during the initial attack or in captivity.

By Associated Press


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