Israeli media: There is progress on the ceasefire in Gaza

Gaza unrest / Photo EPA-EFE/HAITHAM IMAD

Mediators are making progress in efforts to reach an agreement on a week-long ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and the release of dozens of hostages held in Gaza and Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons, Israeli media reported today.

Israel's military cabinet met late last night to discuss the proposal, but it has not been officially announced what was decided.

Several Israeli media outlets, citing unnamed officials, reported that the deal had been tacitly approved, and that Israel would send a delegation to Qatar to continue talks.

Hamas said it was not yet included in the latest proposal by the United States, Egypt and Qatar, but the framework of the reported agreement largely matches the Palestinian Islamist group's previous demands for the first phase of the truce. The leader of Hamas' political wing, Ismail Haniyeh, was in Cairo last week.

Israel, meanwhile, plans to expand its offensive to the southernmost town of Rafah, on the Egyptian-Gaza border, where more than half of Gaza's 2,3 million residents have fled the conflict and live in tents, overcrowded apartments and shelters.

Aid organizations have warned of a catastrophe, and the US and Israel's other allies have said harm to civilians must be avoided.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that he will convene a cabinet meeting this week to "approve the operational plan for action in Rafah," including the evacuation of civilians.

A senior Egyptian official, who is mediating with Qatar between Israel and Hamas, said yesterday that the draft ceasefire agreement included the release of 40 female and elderly male hostages in exchange for about 300 Palestinian prisoners, mostly women, minors and the elderly.

An anonymous Egyptian official said the proposed six-week pause in the conflict would allow hundreds of trucks each day to bring desperately needed aid to Gaza, including the northern part of the besieged territory.

He said both sides agreed to continue negotiations during the break for further liberation and a permanent ceasefire.

The Israeli Prime Minister's Office did not respond to a request for comment on the discussions held in the War Cabinet, nor to Israeli media reports.

Mediators face an unofficial deadline at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins on March 11, when tensions between Israel and the Palestinians often intensify.

Hamas has previously said it will not release the remaining hostages until Israel ends its offensive, withdraws forces from Palestinian territory and has also demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including extremists, which Netanyahu has refused.

However, in an earlier proposal, Hamas envisioned an initial phase similar to the now-reported draft agreement, hinting that the two sides could agree to a temporary ceasefire in the war that began on October 7 with Hamas terror attacks in southern Israel .

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