Gaza ceasefire talks fail days before Ramadan

Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024.
Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. Copyright AP Photo/Fatima Shbair
Copyright AP Photo/Fatima Shbair
By Associated Press with Euronews
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Hamas refuses to release hostages unless Israel halts its offensive, a demand Tel Aviv rejects, vowing to persist with the conflict until Hamas is dismantled.

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Three days of negotiations with Hamas over a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages failed to achieve a breakthrough on Tuesday, less than a week before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Egyptian officials said.

The United States, Qatar and Egypt have spent weeks trying to mediate a deal where Hamas would free up to 40 hostages in exchange for a six-week truce.

Two Egyptian officials reported the latest discussions ended on Tuesday, with Hamas submitting a proposal to be discussed with Israel by mediators, who are set to meet with the Hamas delegation on Wednesday.

Hamas has refused to release all of the estimated 100 hostages it holds, and the remains of around 30 more, unless Israel ends its offensive, withdraws from Gaza and releases a large number of Palestinian prisoners.

U.S. officials have expressed skepticism about Hamas's genuine interest in reaching an agreement, pointing out that the group has resisted several demands that the U.S. and other countries consider reasonable, including providing the names of hostages slated for release.

“It is on Hamas to make decisions about whether it is prepared to engage,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday.

On the same day, senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said that his group demands a permanent ceasefire, rather than a six-week pause, and a “complete withdrawal” of Israeli forces.

“The security and safety of our people will be achieved only by a permanent ceasefire, the end of the aggression and the withdrawal from every inch of the Gaza Strip,” Hamdan told reporters in Beirut.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly rejected Hamas' demands and repeatedly vowed to continue the war until Hamas is dismantled and all the hostages are returned. Israel didn't send a delegation to the latest round of talks.

Mediators had hoped to broker an agreement before Ramadan, the month of dawn-to-dusk fasting that often sees heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions linked to access to a major holy site in Jerusalem. Ramadan is expected to begin around March 10.

UN warns of threats to children's health in Gaza

The United States and Jordan airdropped 36,800 meals over northern Gaza on Tuesday, the second U.S. airdrop since Saturday. The U.N. children’s agency said that at least 10 children have reportedly died in isolated northern Gaza because of dehydration and malnutrition.

“There are likely more children fighting for their lives somewhere in one of Gaza’s few remaining hospitals, and likely even more children in the north unable to obtain care at all,” Adele Khodr, the UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.

“These tragic and horrific deaths are man-made, predictable and entirely preventable," she added.

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