Gaza ceasefire talks under way in Paris

Nidal al-Mughrabi and Bassam Masoud |

Israeli air strikes have reportedly killed civilians in Deir al-Balah, in the Gaza Strip’s centre.
Israeli air strikes have reportedly killed civilians in Deir al-Balah, in the Gaza Strip’s centre.

Gaza truce talks are under way in Paris, in what appears to be the most serious push for weeks to halt the fighting in the battered Palestinian enclave and see Israeli and foreign hostages released.

A source briefed on the ceasefire talks, who could not be identified by name or nationality, said talks had begun on Friday with Israel’s head of Mossad intelligence service meeting separately with each party – Qatar, Egypt and the United States.

“There are budding signs of optimism about being able to move forward toward the start of a serious negotiation,” the source said. Egypt’s Al Qahera TV News also reported that the talks had begun.

An official from Hamas said the militant group had wrapped up ceasefire talks in Cairo and was now waiting to see what mediators bring back from the weekend talks with Israel.

Mediators have ramped up efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, in the hope of heading off an Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah where more than a million displaced people are sheltering at the southern edge of the enclave.

Wounded people in Al Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah
Gaza health authorities say 160 people have been hurt in Israeli military strikes in the past day. (AP PHOTO)

Israel says it will attack the city if no truce agreement is reached soon. Washington has called on its close ally not to do so, warning of vast civilian casualties if an assault on the city goes ahead.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met Egyptian mediators in Cairo to discuss a truce this past week on his first visit since December.

Two Egyptian security sources earlier confirmed that Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel would head on Friday to Paris for the talks with the Israelis, after wrapping up talks with Haniyeh on Thursday. Israel has not publicly commented on the Paris talks, which are expected to continue through the weekend.

The Hamas official, who asked not to be identified, said the militant group did not offer any new proposal at the talks with the Egyptians, but was waiting to see what the mediators would bring back from their talks with the Israelis.

“We discussed our proposal with them (the Egyptians) and we are going to wait until they return from Paris,” the Hamas official said.

The last time similar talks were held in Paris, at the start of February, they produced an outline for the first extended ceasefire of the war, approved by Israel and the United States. Hamas responded with a counterproposal, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then rejected as “delusional”.

Hamas, which is still believed to be holding more than 100 hostages seized in the October 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war, says it will free them only as part of a truce that ends with an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israel says it will not pull out until Hamas is eradicated.

Late on Thursday, Netanyahu presented his security cabinet with an official plan for Gaza once the fighting stops. He emphasised that Israel expects to maintain security control over the enclave after destroying Hamas, and also sees no role there for the Palestinian Authority (PA) based in the West Bank.

Washington favours a role for a reformed PA.

As night fell over the impoverished strip, an air strike targeting a residential unit in central Gaza’s Deir Al-Balah killed at least 22 Palestinians, health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said.

Health officials said many family members of Mahmoud Abu Zaeiter, a comedian with 1.2 million online followers, were among the dead.

There was no immediate comment from Israel, which says it is doing its best to minimise harm to civilians as it battles militants in urban areas.

At a morgue in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are sheltering, a family knelt by the body of their child, killed by Israeli strikes overnight into Friday. They tenderly touched and stroked the small body through a shroud.

At least 29,514 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza since October 7, the Gaza health ministry said on Friday.

Israel launched its months-long military campaign after militants from Hamas-ruled Gaza killed 1200 people and took 253 hostages in southern Israel on October 7.

Reuters