Published May 5, 2024

(Updated) Hamas says latest cease-fire talks have ended. Israel vows military operation in 'very near future'

By By Josef Federman And Kareem Chehayeb

Updated May 5, 2024 @ 2:56pm

JERUSALEM (AP) — The latest round of Gaza cease-fire talks ended in Cairo after “in-depth and serious discussions,” the Hamas militant group said Sunday, reiterating key demands that Israel again rejected. After earlier signs of progress, the outlook appeared to dim as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to resist international pressure to halt the war.

Israel closed its main crossing point for delivering badly needed humanitarian aid for Gaza after Hamas attacked it. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant claimed Hamas wasn't serious about a deal and warned of “a powerful operation in the very near future in Rafah and other places across all of Gaza."

Israel didn't send a delegation to the talks mediated by Egypt and Qatar. Egyptian state media reported that the Hamas delegation went for discussions in Qatar, where the group has a political office, and will return to Cairo for further negotiations on Tuesday.

Another threat to talks came as Israel ordered the local offices of Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite news network to close, accusing it of broadcasting anti-Israel incitement. The ban did not appear to affect the channel’s operations in Gaza or the West Bank.

Netanyahu, under pressure from hard-liners in his government, continued to lower expectations for a cease-fire deal, calling the key Hamas demands “extreme” — including the withdrawal of Israel forces from Gaza and an end to the war. That would equal surrender after the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 that triggered the fighting, he said.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in a statement earlier said the militant group was serious and positive about the negotiations and that stopping Israeli aggression in Gaza is the main priority.

But Israel's government again vowed to press on with a military operation in Rafah, the southernmost Gaza city on the border with Egypt where more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million residents now seek shelter from Israeli attacks. Rafah is a key entry point for aid.

Kerem Shalom, now closed, is another. The Israeli military reported 10 projectiles were launched at the crossing in southern Israel and said its fighter jets later struck the source. Hamas said it had been targeting Israeli soldiers in the area. Israel’s Channel 12 TV channel said 10 people were wounded, three seriously. It was unclear how long the crossing would be closed.

The head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, called for an independent investigation and “accountability for the blatant disregard of humanitarian workers.” He also said Israel this week denied him entry to Gaza for a second time.

The closing of Kerem Shalom came shortly after the head of the U.N. World Food Program asserted “full-blown famine” in devastated northern Gaza, one of the most prominent warnings yet of the toll of restrictions on food and other aid entering the territory. The comments were not a formal famine declaration.

In expanded remarks as the full NBC interview was released Sunday, WFP chief Cindy McCain said famine was “moving its way south” in Gaza and that Israel's efforts to allow in more aid were not enough. “We need more ability to be able to get more trucks in,” she said. “We have right now a mass on the outside border, about enough trucks and enough food for 1.1 million people for about three months. We need to get that in.”

Gaza's vast humanitarian needs put further pressure on the pursuit of a cease-fire. 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 taken in the Oct. 7 attack, 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.

Netanyahu claimed that Israel has shown willingness to make concessions but said it "will continue fighting until all of its objectives are achieved.” That includes the stated aim of crushing Hamas. Israel says it must target Rafah to strike remaining fighters there despite warnings from the U.S. and others about the danger to civilians.

An Israeli strike Sunday on the al-Attar family house in an urban refugee camp near Rafah killed four children, including a baby, and two adults, according to Abu Youssef al-Najjar Hospital.

In a fiery speech for Israel’s annual Holocaust memorial day, Netanyahu added: "I say to the leaders of the world, no amount of pressure, no decision by any international forum will stop Israel from defending itself. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.”

The Hamas cross-border attack on Oct. 7 killed some 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage. Israel says militants still hold around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others. Netanyahu is under growing pressure from some hostages' families to make a deal to end the war and get hostages freed.

Israeli's air and ground offensive has killed over 34,500 people, according to Palestinian health officials, who don't differentiate between civilians and combatants but say women and children make up a majority of those killed.

Israel blames Hamas for civilian deaths, accusing it of embedding in residential and public areas. The Israeli military says it has killed 13,000 militants, without providing evidence to back up the claim.

Banner image: Israeli soldiers drive a tank at a staging ground near the border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, Sunday, May 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)


Chehayeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Jack Jeffery in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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