Following Hamas’ response to the ceasefire proposal mediated by Egypt and Qatar, Israel decided to persist in its planned military operation in Rafah while simultaneously deciding to send a delegation of negotiators to Cairo for talks.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh informed mediators Qatar and Egypt early on Monday evening that his Palestinian militant group had accepted their proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza after nearly seven months of war.

Ismail Haniyeh, head of the political bureau of the Hamas movement, conducted a telephone call with the Prime Minister of Qatar, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and with the Egyptian Intelligence Minister, Abbas Kamel. Haniyeh informed them of Hamas’ approval of their proposal regarding a ceasefire agreement.

Later in the evening, after examining Hamas’ response, Israel’s government decided to send a delegation to mediators to discuss a Gaza truce proposal accepted by Hamas, which it called “far from Israel’s demands.”

“Even though the Hamas proposal is far from Israel’s essential demands, Israel will send a working-level delegation to the mediators,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement after a war cabinet meeting.

An unnamed Israeli official quoted by Reuters said that Hamas approved a “softened” Egyptian proposal, including “far-reaching” conclusions that Israel would not accept.

“The war cabinet has unanimously decided that Israel is continuing the operation in Rafah to exert military pressure on Hamas in order to advance the release of our hostages and the other objectives of the war,” the statement also said.

Netanyahu had previously refused to send a delegation of negotiators before receiving a response from Hamas.

Internal Clash

Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, responded to the proposal, saying that the group is playing “games” that have only “one answer, an immediate order to occupy Rafah!”

Israeli Hostage and Missing Families Forum welcomed Hamas’ decision, adding that it’s the Israeli government’s turn to prove its commitment to its citizens.

“Now it’s time for the Israeli government to prove, with action, its commitment to its citizens,” the Forum said. “The cabinet must take Hamas’ acceptance and turn it into a deal for returning all [the hostages.]”

Israel’s army reiterated its call for evacuations in Rafah as it prepares for a “ground operation” in the southern Gaza city, despite Hamas saying that it had approved a truce proposal.

“We also call on residents this evening to evacuate,” military spokesman Daniel Hagari said in a broadcast address after the Hamas announcement, adding that throughout the day on Monday, “airforce aircraft targeted more than 50 terror targets in the Rafah area.”

Three-Stage Truce

Senior Hamas member Khalil al-Hayya said on Monday that a proposal agreed by the group for a Gaza ceasefire includes a three-stage truce with the goal of a lasting ceasefire.

Hayya told Qatar-based Al Jazeera channel that each phase would last 42 days, and the deal includes plans for a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the return of Palestinians displaced by the ongoing war, an exchange of hostages and prisoners and the aim of a “permanent ceasefire.”

“The ball is now in the court of the Israeli occupation, whether it will agree to the ceasefire agreement or obstruct it,” another senior official told AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations.

Despite months of shuttle diplomacy, mediators have failed to broker a new truce like the week-long ceasefire that saw 105 hostages released last November, the Israelis among them, in exchange for Palestinians held by Israel.

The United States Department of State’s spokesperson Matthew Miller reasserted the US opposition to an Israeli assault on Rafah, which he said is separate from the push for a truce.

“We cannot support an operation in Rafah as it is currently envisioned,” he said, adding that the US has not seen a credible plan to protect the 1.5 million civilians trapped in the city.

“Even absent this latest response [by Hamas], we have made clear that we do not support Israel launching a full-scale military operation in Rafah.”

White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that CIA director William Burns was in the Middle East discussing the proposal.

“We want to get these hostages out, we want to get a ceasefire in place for six weeks, we want to increase humanitarian assistance,” Kirby said, adding that reaching an agreement would be the “absolute best outcome.”

The head of the United Nations called for Israel and Hamas to “go the extra mile needed” to seal a truce and “stop the present suffering” in their devastating war in the Gaza Strip.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also said he was “deeply concerned” by indications showing a large-scale Israeli military operation in the crowded southern Gaza city of Rafah may be “imminent,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

Gazans Rejoice

Crowds cheered and fired in the air in the streets of the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Monday after Hamas said that it approved a ceasefire proposal from mediators Egypt and Qatar, an AFP correspondent said.

People were crying tears of happiness, chanting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) and shooting in the air in celebration of the news, the correspondent said.

The Hamas announcement came after Israel called on Palestinians on Monday to leave eastern Rafah ahead of a ground invasion of the southern Gaza city, amid increasing global alarm about the consequences of such a move.

In Rafah, where civilians had voiced fear and confusion over the evacuation order, crowds cheered and fired in the air in the streets following Hamas’ announcement, an AFP correspondent reported.

Previous negotiation efforts had stalled, in part because of Hamas’ demand for a lasting ceasefire and Netanyahu’s vows to crush its remaining fighters in Rafah.

More than 1,170 Israelis, mostly civilians, were reported dead, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel estimates that 128 of the hostages abducted by militants on October 7 remain in Gaza, including 35 who the military says are dead.

At least 34,735 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, were killed by Israel’s assault, according to the territory’s Health Ministry.