'Progress' made in Gaza ceasefire talks after Hamas 'drop some of its demands' that could see Israeli hostages released

24 February 2024, 18:22 | Updated: 24 February 2024, 18:36

Children are seen in a building destroyed in an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, February 22
Children are seen in a building destroyed in an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, February 22. Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

'Progress' has been made in ongoing hostage negotiations in Paris, according to Israeli officials, after Hamas 'dropped' some of its demands.

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Israeli representatives are currently engaged in truce talks in Paris in what appears to be a serious push toward peace.

It comes months after Hamas's brutal October 7 attacks on Israel which has since brought repeat deadly retaliatory onslaughts from Israel.

Israel's head of Mossad intelligence service has been meeting separately with Egypt, United States, and Qatar - who has for some months acted as a mediator with Hamas - Reuters reported, citing a source who could not be identified.

"There was some progress in Paris but it's too early to tell if it will lead to a breakthrough," an unnamed Israeli official told NBC News.

"Still far from a deal, but Hamas dropped some of its demands following the hardening of Prime Minister Netanyahu's positions."

Hamas' leader Ismail Haniyeh, meanwhile, met with Egyptian mediators earlier this week in Cairo to discuss the truce.

People check the rubble of a building destroyed in an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, February 22
People check the rubble of a building destroyed in an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, February 22. Picture: Alamy

Read More: Israel says Gaza war will only end when 'Hamas is dismantled' in direct reply to Prince William’s intervention

Read More: UK 'could suspend arms sales to Israel if Rafah raid goes ahead', amid fears of huge civilian casualties

The US, Egypt and Qatar have all been working to find possible proposals that could stop the conflict before Israel's forces march into Rafah - where over a million displaced Palestinians have found shelter after fleeing northern Gaza.

However, they now also face an unofficial deadline with the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan in two weeks.

While peace negotiations were underway, Israeli Defence Force strikes continued. In central and southern Gaza, strikes killed at least 68 Palestinians, including children and women, overnight and into Friday, health officials and news agencies reported.

Another 24 bodies remained trapped under the rubble.

The overall Palestinian death toll since the start of the war rose to more than 29,500, with close to 70,000 people wounded, Gaza health officials said. The death toll amounts to close to 1.3 per cent of Gaza's population of 2.3 million.

Netanyahu's plan, while lacking specifics, marks the first time he has presented a formal postwar vision. It reiterates that Israel is determined to crush Hamas.

Polls have indicated that a majority of Palestinians do not support Hamas, but the group has deep roots in Palestinian society.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, February 7, 2024
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, February 7, 2024. Picture: Alamy

Critics, including some in Israel, say the goal of eliminating Hamas is unattainable. Netanyahu's plan calls for freedom of action for Israel's military across a demilitarised Gaza after the war to thwart any security threat.

It says Israel would establish a buffer zone inside Gaza, which is likely to provoke US objections.

The plan also envisions Gaza being governed by local officials who it says would "not be identified with countries or entities that support terrorism and will not receive payment from them".

It is not clear if any Palestinians would agree to such sub-contractor roles.

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