Conflicting reports emerged around ceasefire negotiations in Cairo. Egyptian media reported “significant progress,” whilst Palestinian officials reportedly claimed “no significant progress.”

Talks in Cairo towards a Gaza truce and hostage release deal made “significant progress,” Egyptian state-linked media reported on Monday, more than half a year into the war that started with the October 7 attack.

While Israel and Hamas kept up bellicose rhetoric, they also sent negotiators to Cairo, joined by mediators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar.

Egyptian state-linked news outlet Al-Qahera reported “significant progress being made on several contentious points of agreement,” citing an unnamed high-ranking Egyptian source.

The outlet said that Qatari and Hamas delegations left Cairo and were expected to return “within two days to finalise the terms of the agreement.”

US and Israeli delegations were also due to leave the Egyptian capital “in the next few hours” for consultations over the next 48 hours, it added.

However, conflicting reports emerged, with an unnamed Palestinian official telling the Lebanese Al Mayadeen news network that “all attempts and efforts by mediators to reach an agreement have encountered Israeli inflexibility.”

“At present, there is no progress in negotiations. If there is any, we will announce it through official channels. Hamas adheres to its demands, which include a ceasefire, Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the entry of aid, the return of displaced Gazans, and a prisoner exchange.”

According to Al-Hadath, Israeli sources are reporting that Israel is awaiting Hamas’ response to announce its position on the American truce proposal

Israeli Withdrawal

Israel pulled its forces on Sunday out of the southern Gaza Strip and the main city there, Khan Yunis, allowing large numbers of displaced Palestinians to return to the devastated urban area.

But Defence Minister Yoav Gallant stressed that the aim was for Israeli forces “to prepare for future missions, including… in Rafah” on the Egyptian border.

International pressure mounted on Israel to end the war which brought mass civilian casualties and destroyed swathes of the coastal Palestinian territory.

Israel’s main ally, diplomatic backer and arms supplier the United States demanded last week a ceasefire and hostage release deal along with ramped-up aid deliveries.

‘Better Than Tents’

Israel’s 98th commando division withdrew from Khan Yunis on Sunday and left Gaza “in order to recuperate and prepare for future operations,” the army told AFP.

After troops left the largely destroyed city, a stream of displaced Palestinians walked there, hoping to return to their homes from temporary shelters in Rafah, a little further south.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive killed at least 33,175 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Vast areas of Gaza have been turned into a rubble-strewn wasteland, with damage to infrastructure, mostly housing, estimated at $18.5 billion, a World Bank report said.

Charities accused Israel of blocking aid, but Israel defended its efforts and blamed shortages on aid organisations’ inability to distribute assistance once it gets in.

Iranian Threats

As the war in Gaza rages on, the Middle East has also been seeing a surge of violence involving Iran-backed militant groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Israel was widely blamed for a strike early last week on the consulate building in Syria of its arch foe Iran, sparking retaliatory threats from the Islamic republic.

An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader warned on Sunday that Israeli embassies were “no longer safe” after the strike in Syria that killed seven Revolutionary Guards members.

Gallant said that the army had “finished all its preparations to react to any scenario that could arise regarding Iran.”

Yemen’s Houthis, also backed by Iran, said that they targeted a British ship and two Israeli vessels, after a British maritime security firm reported three separate attacks off Yemen’s coast.

Belal AlSabbagh, Jay Deshmukh, with AFP