TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — A Hamas delegation was in Cairo on Saturday as Egyptian state media reported “noticeable progress” in cease-fire talks for Gaza. But Israel hasn’t sent a delegation and a senior Israeli official downplayed prospects for a full end to the war while emphasizing the commitment to invading Rafah.

Pressure has mounted to reach a deal halting the nearly 7-month-long war. A top U.N. official says there is now a “ full-blown famine” in northern Gaza, while the United States has repeatedly warned close ally Israel about its planned offensive into Rafah, the southernmost city on the border with Egypt, where more than 1 million Palestinians are sheltering.

Egyptian and U.S. mediators have reported signs of compromise in recent days, but chances for a cease-fire deal remain entangled with the key question of whether Israel will accept an end to the war without reaching its stated goal of destroying the militant group Hamas.

Egypt’s state-owned Al-Qahera News TV channel said that a consensus had been reached over many disputed points but did not elaborate. Hamas has called for a complete end to the war and withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Gaza.

Palestinian youth collect cardboard and wooden pallets in Beit Lahya in the northern Gaza Strip on May 4, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)
Palestinian youth collect cardboard and wooden pallets in Beit Lahya in the northern Gaza Strip on May 4, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)

A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations, played down the prospects for a full end to the war. The official said Israel was committed to the Rafah invasion and that it will not agree in any circumstance to end the war as part of a deal to release hostages.

Israeli media said that statement had been dictated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government could be threatened if he agrees to a deal because hard-line Cabinet members demand an attack on Rafah.

The proposal that Egyptian mediators had put to Hamas sets out a three-stage process that would bring an immediate, six-week cease-fire and partial release of Israeli hostages, and would include some sort of Israeli pullout. The initial stage would last for 40 days. Hamas would start by releasing female civilian hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Some families of hostages accused Netanyahu of prolonging the war for his political interests. Daniel Elgert, whose brother Itzhak is held by Hamas, addressed Netanyahu at the latest rally in Tel Aviv: “Bibi, we call on you from here to announce the end of the war in exchange for the return of all the hostages. The war is effectively over, we know it’s over, you can’t fool us.”

Palestinians prayer next to the bodies of their relatives who were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza Stirp, at the Al Aqsa hospital in Deir al Balah, Gaza, Saturday, May 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)
Palestinians prayer next to the bodies of their relatives who were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza Stirp, at the Al Aqsa hospital in Deir al Balah, Gaza, Saturday, May 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)
TOPSHOT - A Palestinian man carries belongings in Beit Lahya in the northern Gaza Strip on May 4, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT – A Palestinian man carries belongings in Beit Lahya in the northern Gaza Strip on May 4, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

The war has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s local health officials, caused widespread destruction and plunged the territory into an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

The conflict erupted on Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked southern Israel, abducting about 250 people and killing around 1,200, mostly civilians. Israel says militants still hold around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

Israeli strikes Saturday on Gaza killed at least six people. Three bodies were recovered from the rubble of a building in Rafah and taken to Yousef Al Najjar hospital. A strike in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza killed three people, according to hospital officials.

In the last 24 hours, the bodies of 32 people killed by Israeli strikes have been brought to local hospitals, Gaza’s Health Ministry said Saturday. The ministry does not distinguish between fighters and civilians in its tallies but says that women and children make up around two-thirds of those killed.

The Israeli military says it has killed 13,000 militants, without providing evidence to back up the claim.

It has also conducted mass arrests during its raids inside Gaza. The territory’s Health Ministry urged the International Criminal Court to investigate the death in Israeli custody of a Gaza surgeon. Adnan al-Borsh, 50, was working at al-Awda Hospital when Israeli troops stormed it in December, according to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club.

The United Nations has warned that hundreds of thousands would be “at imminent risk of death” if Israel’s military moves forward into densely packed Rafah, which is also a critical entry point for humanitarian aid. Israel has briefed U.S. officials on its plan to evacuate civilians.

The director of the U.N. World Food Program, Cindy McCain, said Friday that trapped civilians in the north, the most cut-off part of Gaza, have plunged into famine. McCain said a cease-fire and a greatly increased flow of aid through land and sea routes was essential.

A Israeli humanitarian official on Saturday called McCain’s assertion incorrect and said Israel has been facilitating the delivery of more aid. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Israel recently opened new crossings for aid into northern Gaza, but on Wednesday, Israeli settlers blocked the first convoy before it crossed into the besieged enclave. Once inside Gaza, the convoy was commandeered by Hamas militants, before U.N. officials reclaimed it.

Some displaced residents of northern Gaza said they had been skipping meals and hadn’t seen vegetables for weeks.

“You know now everything is scarce in Gaza. There are no vegetables and there is no aid or food packages. It is about once a month that we get food parcels,” Marwan Al-Zaid said.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where tensions have been high since the outbreak of the war in Gaza, the Israeli military said it and Shin Bet had killed five fighters in Tulkarem, asserting the fighters had opened fire. Palestinian authorities said five people were killed by Israeli fire in the town of Deir al-Ghusun, roughly 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) northeast of Tulkarem.

Jeffery reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.


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