Israel, Hamas in talk over ceasefire, hostage release as death toll hits 15,000

Hopes mounted on Tuesday that Hamas could release dozens of hostages from war-torn Gaza after the militant group’s leader and key mediator Qatar said a truce deal was in sight and the Israeli premier pointed to “progress.”

The announcements are the most optimistic yet of a potential breakthrough in the conflict, which has been raging for more than six weeks and left thousands dead on both sides.

“We are close to reaching a deal on a truce,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said, according to a statement sent by his office to AFP.

In Qatar, foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said, “We’re very optimistic, very hopeful” and told reporters: “We are at the closest point we ever had been in reaching an agreement.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to destroy Hamas, was more circumspect, telling soldiers at a military base only that “we are making progress” on the return of hostages.

“I hope there will be good news soon,” he added, with speculation that an announcement could be made as soon as Tuesday evening after his office announced meetings of his war and security cabinets and government.

In Washington, United States President Joe Biden, who does not support a full ceasefire, said a temporary truce was “now very close”.

“We could bring some of these hostages home very soon,” he said at the White House. “But I don’t want to get into the details of things because nothing is done until it’s done.”

The BRICS group of nations including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa on Tuesday called for an “immediate, durable, and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities” in Gaza, during a summit in Johannesburg aimed at drawing up a common response to the conflict.

Deaths hit 15,000

Despite talk of a temporary truce, fighting raged on in Gaza’s bloodiest-ever war, sparked by the October 7 attack in which Israel says Hamas gunmen killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. According to the Hamas government, the war has killed more than 14,100 people, including nearly 6,000 children and close to 4,000 women, AFP reported.

S’Africa may shut Israeli embassy

South African lawmakers voted on Tuesday in favour of closing down the Israeli embassy in Pretoria and suspending all diplomatic relations until a ceasefire is agreed in its war with Palestinian terror group Hamas in Gaza.

The Jerusalem Post in a report, crediting Reuters, gathered the resolution was largely symbolic as it would be up to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government whether to implement it; a presidency spokesperson did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

But Ramaphosa and senior foreign ministry officials have been vocally critical of Israel’s leadership during its devastating military campaign against Hamas in the densely populated Gaza Strip, calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate them for potential war crimes.

The report said the Israeli embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, the Israeli ambassador in Pretoria was recalled to Tel Aviv for consultations ahead of the vote, which on Tuesday was resoundingly adopted by a 248-91 margin.

(Punch)

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