Gaza: 'Last chance' for hostage deal, ceasefire

Speculation has been rife for weeks as to when the Israeli army will enter Rafah in southern Gaza. The military operation was expected to begin with an evacuation of the general population that would last for several weeks. Tens of thousands of people have now reportedly fled the city.

At one point, about 1.5 million of the more than 2.2 million people in the Gaza Strip were staying in Rafah. According to aid organizations, more than a million people took refuge there during the Gaza war.

But Israel says it wants to escalate soon. A series of reports by Axios and Israeli media quoting senior Israeli officials say that there must be an agreement on the remaining Israeli hostages and a ceasefire, or they will occupy Rafah. It was the “last chance”: “A deal or Rafa in the future,” an official was quoted as saying.

Efforts to stop the war

Negotiations for a ceasefire and a deal to release hostages continue, but time appears to be running out. Israel urges Hamas that now is the last chance.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz also said on Saturday that the attack on Rafah would be postponed if an agreement was reached. “Our first priority is to free the hostages,” Katz told Channel 12. Asked if that included postponing military action, Katz replied: “Yes. If there's an agreement, we'll suspend action.”

Advances in the diplomatic arena

According to the head of the World Economic Forum (WEF), there is a movement back in the negotiations. “There is some movement in the hostage talks and we are seeing a possible way out of the deadlock,” the forum's president, Borge Brende, said in Riyadh on Saturday. In parallel with an economic forum on Sunday and Monday, foreign ministers from the United States, Great Britain, Germany and several Arab countries are scheduled to hold talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel will not participate, Brande said.

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Hamas says it has received a new plan from Israel for a ceasefire and the release of hostages. “Hamas will study this proposal and provide a response,” senior Hamas official Khalil al-Haja wrote in a message shared on Telegram on Saturday.

Print from Cairo

According to various media, Egypt now wants to pressure Hamas to bring about a deal. The Times of Israel reported that progress had been made in the talks. The state-affiliated Egyptian television station Al-Qahira News had earlier reported the significant development. Axios wrote that the Egyptians knew urgency. The government in Cairo is concerned that an invasion of Rafah would result in large numbers of Palestinians crossing the border.

New hostage video

Meanwhile, Hamas released another hostage video. In it, the two abductees from Israel supported the hostage release agreement between Hamas and the Israeli government. The record is undated. One of them said he was held captive for 202 days. It was initially unclear under what circumstances the video was taken and whether the two spoke of their own free will or under pressure and threats.

The second hostage – who, according to Israeli media, is also a US citizen – called in a video to continue demonstrations in the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to free the abductees from Israel.

In Israel itself, thousands again demonstrated across the country on Saturday to demand the release of the hostages. In Tel Aviv, people also called for the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Israeli media, hundreds of people protested in the coastal city of Haifa and in front of Netanyahu's private home in the city of Caesarea. Thousands took to the streets in Jerusalem.

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Died in Israeli shelling in Lebanon

Meanwhile, Palestinian media reported Israeli airstrikes in the Rafah area, Khan Yunis and central Gaza. There are casualties. There was no official confirmation from Israel at first.

At least two people were killed in an Israeli drone strike in Lebanon on Friday, according to Lebanese sources. The Israeli army targeted a car in eastern Lebanon, state news agency NNA reported.

Lebanese Hezbollah fighters said they attacked northern Israel with drones and guided missiles on Saturday. The attack was carried out against the headquarters of the Al-Manara military command.

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