Diplomatic efforts to secure a truce in Gaza and captive exchange with Israel have built up on Sunday with Hamas’ upcoming visit to Egypt on Monday, where the Islamist militant group will deliver its response to Israel’s latest proposal.

Diplomatic efforts intensified on Sunday to reach a long-sought-after truce and hostage-release deal in Gaza, as Hamas said it would travel to mediator Egypt to deliver its response to Israel’s latest proposal.

The Israeli government has come under intense pressure to reach a ceasefire from its global allies as well as from protesters within Israel demanding the release of hostages seized by Hamas during their October 7 attack that triggered the war.

A Hamas delegation will arrive in Egypt on Monday to deliver the group’s response to Israel’s new hostage and truce counterproposal, a senior official of the militant group told AFP.

Hamas has previously insisted on a permanent ceasefire, a condition that Israel has rejected. However, Axios news website, citing two Israeli officials, reported that Israel’s latest proposal includes a willingness to discuss the “restoration of sustainable calm” in Gaza after hostages are released. It is the first time in the nearly seven-month war that Israeli leaders have suggested they are open to discussing an end to the war, Axios said.

A Hamas source close to the negotiations told AFP that the group “is open to discussing the new proposal positively,” adding that the Egyptian proposal showed “some progress”.

It guarantees the absence of Israeli forces on Al-Rashid road, a key artery in the strip, when displaced Palestinians return from the south of the territory to the north, according to the same source. It also proposes that Israeli forces remain 500 meters (yards) away from the main Salaheddin highway and ensures that civilians are not subjected to shooting, arrest or detention when they return to their homes.

The new hopes of a potential truce came as world leaders and humanitarian groups warned that a looming Israeli invasion of the southernmost city of Rafah would lead to massive civilian casualties.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appealed to the US to stop Israel from invading Rafah, which he said would be “the biggest disaster in the history of the Palestinian people.”

The US — Israel’s main ally and weapons supplier — was the only nation capable of preventing Israel from “committing this crime,” Abbas told a global economic summit in Saudi Arabia.

‘Momentum’ for Truce Talks

Abbas spoke at a World Economic Forum (WEF) summit that opened Sunday in Riyadh, which US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and high-ranking officials from other countries trying to broker a ceasefire are also due to attend.

While there is no Israeli participation, the other key players will discuss the situation in Gaza, WEF president Borge Brende said.

There was “some new momentum now in the talks around the hostages, and also for… a possible way out of the impasse we are faced with in Gaza,” he said.

Israel Pummels Gaza

Israel carried out air strikes and shelling in Gaza overnight, hitting three houses in the southern city of Khan Younes, an AFP correspondent said Sunday, also reporting strikes on Gaza City and Rafah.

The Israeli military said its jets struck dozens of terror targets, including “launch sites, armed terrorists, and observation posts.”

Despite international outcry, Israel has vowed to invade the city, where Israel’s military says Hamas is holding hostages.

The Israeli military offensive has turned vast swathes of Gaza into rubble and sparked a humanitarian crisis.

UN humanitarian agency OCHA has warned that “famine thresholds in Gaza will be breached within the next six weeks” if a massive amount of food aid does not reach the territory.

A British ship set to house hundreds of US troops building a temporary pier to boost aid deliveries to Gaza set sail from Cyprus on Saturday.

In the central Gaza city of Deir el-Balah, artist Mahdi Karira has turned discarded tin cans into puppets to entertain displaced Palestinian children.

Karira holds performances to “bring joy to the children” and to show “that we remain rooted on this land despite the aggression,” he told AFP.

Human Toll

About 1,170 Israelis, mostly civilians, have died, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

At least 34,454 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, have been killed by Israel’s assault, according to the health ministry in the Gaza strip.

Israel estimates that 129 hostages seized on October 7 are still being held in Gaza, including 34 the military says are dead.

The Gaza health ministry reported on Sunday at least 66 deaths in the past 24 hours.


Laurie Churchman and Robbie Corey-Boulet, with AFP