The possibility of a probable truce agreement in Gaza was emerging on Tuesday, February 27, as US President Joe Biden expressed his optimism, while Qatar’s Emir was due to land in Paris.

A new ceasefire between Israel and Hamas could start as soon as Monday, US President Joe Biden said, in a deal that may free dozens of hostages held in Gaza in exchange for several hundred Palestinian detainees.

In the protracted bid to bring about a truce, Egypt, Qatar, the United States, France and others acted as go-betweens for Israel and Hamas, with ongoing negotiations.

They are seeking a six-week halt to the fighting and the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel sparked the war.

A deal could include the release of several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel, media reports suggest.

“My hope is by next Monday, we’ll have a ceasefire,” said Biden on Monday, when asked when an agreement could start, adding, “We’re close, we’re not done yet.”

Mediators have been hoping to get a deal in place before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in about two weeks.

“Ramadan’s coming up and there’s been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out,” Biden said.

An unnamed Israeli official told news site Ynet the “direction is positive.”

Qatar’s Emir in Paris

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani – whose country hosts Hamas leaders and helped broker a one-week truce in November – is due in Paris on Tuesday, according to the French presidency.

The Qatari ruler is scheduled to meet French President Emmanuel Macron at 4 PM (15:00 GMT) at the Elysée Palace, followed by a state dinner, the president’s office said.

According to the official Qatar News Agency, Sheikh Tamim previously met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Doha and discussed efforts “aimed at reaching an immediate and permanent ceasefire agreement.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that any truce deal would delay, not prevent, a ground invasion of Rafah in the far south of the Gaza Strip, which he said was necessary to achieve “total victory” over Hamas.

With Israeli ground troops operating in every other major urban area of the Gaza Strip nearly five months into the war, an estimated 1.4 million Palestinian civilians sought shelter in Rafah.

Netanyahu’s office said on Monday that the military had shown Israel’s war cabinet its plan for evacuating civilians from Rafah, but no details have been released on where those displaced people could go.

‘Final Nail in Coffin’

The United Nations repeatedly warned against any ground assault on Rafah, and on Monday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that an assault would “put the final nail in the coffin” of aid operations.

Rafah serves as a crucial entry point for desperately needed aid via neighbouring Egypt, which Guterres said makes it “the core of the humanitarian aid operation” for the Gaza Strip.

Ahead of any ground incursion, Rafah has not been spared from Israel’s airstrikes.Israel’s military campaign killed at least 29,782 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-ruled territory’s Health Ministry.

The Hamas attack that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Militants also took about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Netanyahu faced increasing public pressure over the fate of hostages still held in Gaza, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.

In Israel, municipal elections were delayed twice by the fighting and will be held on Tuesday in a poll which could gauge the public mood nearly five months into Israel’s war against Hamas.

In Gaza’s north, desperate Palestinians scavenged for food as most aid trucks have been halted, with many people eating animal fodder and even leaves.

‘This Is Not a Life’

The Jordanian army said that it carried out a series of humanitarian aid drops, while Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Israel of further limiting aid.

The main UN aid agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, said that humanitarian assistance entering Gaza halved in February from the previous month.

“The Israeli government is starving” Gaza’s 2.4 million Palestinians, said Omar Shakir, HRW’s Israel and Palestine director.

And in a political shock on Monday, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

A presidential decree said that the government will stay on in an interim capacity until a new one is formed.

Israel’s top ally Washington and other powers discussing a post-war Gaza called for a reformed Palestinian Authority to take charge of both the West Bank and Gaza, which has been ruled by Hamas since 2007.

Adel Zaanoun, Jay Deshmukh, with AFP