Mediators at Gaza talks push to secure truce: Israel

Nidal al-Mughrabi and Bassam Masoud |

United States Air Force dropped humanitarian aid into Gaza where many face starvation.
United States Air Force dropped humanitarian aid into Gaza where many face starvation.

Efforts to secure a deal on a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza are ongoing, Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad says, despite dimming hopes for a truce during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Mossad chief David Barnea met on Friday with his US counterpart, CIA Director William Burns, to promote a deal that would see hostages released, Mossad said in a statement on Saturday. 

US President Joe Biden said on Saturday that Burns remained in the region.

“Contacts and co-operation with the mediators continue all the time in an effort to narrow the gaps and reach agreements,” Mossad said in the statement distributed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave and has been locked in a war with Israeli forces since its deadly October 7 rampage in southern Israel, have traded blame over the apparent deadlock in talks in the run-up to Ramadan, which begins on or around Sunday.

A Hamas source told Reuters the group’s delegation was “unlikely” to make another visit to Cairo at the weekend for talks.

Egypt, the US and Qatar have been mediating truce negotiations since January. 

The last deal struck was a week-long pause in fighting in November during which Hamas released more than 100 hostages and Israel freed about three times as many Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas blames Israel for the impasse in negotiations for a longer ceasefire and the release of 134 hostages believed still held in Gaza, saying it refuses to give guarantees to end the war or pull its forces from the enclave.

Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip
Israel’s offensive has plunged Gaza into a humanitarian catastrophe. (AP PHOTO)

Mossad said Hamas was digging its heels in and aiming for violence in the region to spiral during Ramadan.

Israeli officials have said that the war will end only with the defeat of Hamas, whose demands Netanyahu has called “delusional”.

Biden, who has repeatedly called for a temporary ceasefire, said in an MSNBC interview that it was “always possible” that a deal could be reached before Ramadan but did not elaborate.

While reiterating steadfast US support for Israel’s right to defend itself, Biden told MSNBC his message to Netanyahu about the need to limit Palestinian civilian casualties is that he is “hurting Israel more than helping” by acting in a way “contrary to what Israel stands for”.

In a statement marking Ramadan, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh vowed the Palestinians would continue to fight Israel “until they regain freedom and independence”.

Five months into Israel’s air and ground assault on Gaza, health authorities there say almost 31,000 Palestinians have been killed.

The war was triggered by the October 7 attack by Hamas, in which 1200 people were killed and 253 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

A woman at a building destroyed in an Israeli strike in Rafah
More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are sheltering in the Rafah area. (AP PHOTO)

At an anti-government protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday, some demonstrators blocked a highway and were dragged away by police. 

Another rally was led by families of hostages who called for their loved ones’ release.

Charity workers have loaded relief supplies bound for Gaza onto a barge in Cyprus as part of an international effort to launch a maritime corridor to a Palestinian population on the brink of famine.

The US has said its military would build a temporary floating dock off Gaza’s coast to bring in aid, although it does not envision deployment of US troops on the ground.

Israel was co-ordinating with the US on the dock project for shipment of aid “after it undergoes full Israeli inspection”, to be delivered to Gaza civilians through international organisations, Israeli military spokesman  Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said.

A US Navy logistics support vessel was headed for the eastern Mediterranean carrying the first equipment to be used to help establish the pier, US Central Command said.

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are sheltering in the Rafah area.

Israel’s offensive has plunged Gaza into a humanitarian catastrophe. 

Much of the enclave is reduced to rubble and most of its population is displaced, with the United Nations warning of disease and starvation. 

Reuters