Israel notes ‘significant gaps’ in cease-fire talks  – Press Enterprise

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RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Israel said “significant gaps” remain after cease-fire talks Sunday with the United States, Qatar and Egypt but called them constructive and said they would continue in the week ahead, a tentative sign of progress on a potential agreement that could see Israel pause military operations against Hamas in exchange for the release of remaining hostages.

The U.S. announced its first military deaths in the region since the war began and blamed Iran-backed militants for the drone strike in Jordan that killed three American service members amid concerns about a wider conflict.

The statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on the cease-fire talks did not say what the “significant gaps” were. There was no immediate statement from the other parties.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP, file)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP, file)

The war has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, destroyed vast swaths of Gaza and displaced nearly 85% of the territory’s people. Israel says its air and ground offensive has killed more than 9,000 militants, without providing evidence. The Oct. 7 Hamas attack in southern Israel killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and militants took about 250 hostages.

With Gaza’s 2.3 million people in a deepening humanitarian crisis, the United Nations secretary-general called on the United States and others to resume funding the main agency providing aid to the besieged territory, after Israel accused a dozen employees of taking part in the Hamas attack that ignited the war.

Communications Director Juliette Touma warned that the agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, would be forced to stop its support in Gaza by the end of February.

CEASE-FIRE TALKS TO CONTINUE

Sunday’s intelligence meeting included CIA Director Bill Burns, the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.

Ahead of the meeting, two senior Biden administration officials said U.S. negotiators were making progress on a potential agreement that would play out over two phases, with the remaining women, elderly and wounded hostages to be released in a first 30-day phase. It also would call for Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza. The officials requested anonymity to discuss the ongoing negotiations.

More than 100 hostages, mainly women and children, were released in November in exchange for a weeklong cease-fire and the release of 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, speaking to troops, said that “these days we are conducting a negotiation process for the release of hostages” but vowed that as long as hostages remain in Gaza, “we will intensify the (military) pressure and continue our efforts — it’s already happening now.”

At least 17 Palestinians were killed in two Israeli airstrikes that hit apartment buildings in central Gaza, according to an Associated Press journalist who saw the bodies at a local hospital. One hit a building in Zawaida, killing 13 people, and the other an apartment block in the Nuseirat refugee camp, killing four.

Also Sunday, 10 Palestinians were killed in a strike that hit a residential building in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, said Dr. Moataz Harara, a physician at Shifa Hospital, where the dead were taken.

Israel’s military said troops were engaging in close combat with Hamas in neighborhoods of the southern city of Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest.



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