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Israel says Hamas ceasefire demands at odds with deal blueprint By Reuters

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dawoud Abu Alkas

CAIRO/GAZA (Reuters) -Residents of Gaza City were trapped in houses and bodies lay uncollected in the streets under an intense new Israeli assault on Thursday, even as Washington pushed for a peace deal at talks in Egypt and Qatar.

Hamas says a heavy Israeli assault on Gaza City this week could wreck efforts to finally end the war just as negotiations have entered the home stretch. In a statement, the Palestinian Islamist militant group said mediators had yet to provide it with updates on the state of the talks since it made concessions last week in response to a U.S.-backed Israeli peace offer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency was headed to Cairo for more ceasefire talks. U.S. envoy Brett McGurk was in Israel, where he met Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

Residents of Gaza City say this week’s assault is comparable to the fiercest battle of the war, which destroyed the enclave’s oldest and biggest settlement in the first weeks of fighting last year.

Home to more than a quarter of Gaza’s residents before the war, Gaza City was largely razed to the ground in late 2023, but hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have returned to homes in the ruins. They have now once again been ordered out by the Israeli military. Many say they won’t go.

“We will die but not leave to the south. We have tolerated starvation and bombs for nine months and we are ready to die as martyrs here,” said Mohammad Ali, 30, reached by text message.

Ali, whose family has relocated several times within the city, said they had been running short of food, water and medicine.

“The occupation (Israel) bombs Gaza City as if the war was restarting. We hope there will be a ceasefire soon, but if not then is God’s will.”

The Gaza health ministry said it had reports of people trapped and others killed inside their houses in the Tel Al Hawa and Sabra districts of Gaza City, and rescuers could not reach them.

The Civil Emergency Service said it estimated that at least 30 people had been killed in the Tel Al-Hawa and Rimal areas and it could not recover bodies from the streets there.

The Israeli army told Gaza City residents on Wednesday to use two “safe routes” to head south. Some posted a hashtag on social media: “We are not leaving”.

WITHDRAWAL FROM SHEJAIA

Just east of Gaza City in the Shejaia suburb, residents were returning on foot to a desolate moonscape of destroyed buildings after Israeli forces withdrew following a two-week offensive there.

The territory’s main cemetery had been bulldozed by the army. People wheeled supplies on the back of bicycles across rubble-strewn tracks, passing the remains of burnt-out and blasted Israeli armoured vehicles.

“We have returned to Shejaia after 15 days. You can see the destruction. They spared nothing, even trees, there was a lot of greenery in this area. What is the guilt of stones and trees? And what is my guilt as a civilian?” resident Hatem Tayeh told Reuters in the ruins.

“There are bodies of civilian people. What is the guilt of the civilian? Who are you fighting?”

Israel launched its assault on the Gaza Strip last year after Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and capturing more than 250 hostages according to Israeli tallies.

Since then, Israel’s assault has killed more than 38,000 according to medical authorities in Gaza.

At the southern edge of the enclave in Rafah near the border with Egypt, where tanks have been operating in most of the city since May, residents said the army continued to blow up houses in the western and central areas, amid fighting with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other smaller factions.

Palestinian health officials said four people were killed, including a child, in an Israeli air strike in Tel Al-Sultan in western Rafah.

The Israeli military said earlier on Thursday around five rockets fired from the Rafah area were successfully intercepted.

The negotiations in Qatar and Egypt follow important concessions last week from Hamas, which accepted that a truce could begin and some hostages be released without Israel first agreeing to end the war.

In its statement on Thursday, the group accused Israel of “stalling to buy time to foil this round of negotiations, as it has done in previous rounds”, all of which have ended in failure since a week-long truce in November.

Netanyahu, who faces opposition within his right-wing cabinet to any deal that would halt the war without Hamas vanquished, says a deal must allow Israel to resume fighting until it meets all its objectives.

Israel’s defence ministry said Gallant and visiting U.S. envoy McGurk discussed “the progress achieved in discussions regarding an agreement for the release of hostages, with an emphasis on the security measures required to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza”.




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