Hamas says delegation heading to Cairo for truce talks

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Gaza Strip, Palestinian Territories, May 4 (AFP/APP):Hamas said its delegation will travel to Cairo on Saturday to resume Gaza ceasefire talks with a “positive spirit” in the latest effort to halt almost seven months of war with Israel.

Foreign mediators have been waiting for a Hamas response to a proposal to halt the fighting for 40 days and exchange hostages for Palestinian prisoners.

“We emphasise the positive spirit with which the Hamas leadership dealt with the ceasefire proposal it recently received, and we are going to Cairo in the same spirit to reach an agreement,” the Palestinian militant group posted on its website on Friday.

“We in Hamas and the Palestinian resistance forces are determined to achieve an agreement that fulfils our people’s demands for a complete cessation of the aggression, the withdrawal of the occupation forces, the return of the displaced, relief and reconstruction, and a serious exchange deal,” the statement said.

A major stumbling block has been that, while Hamas has demanded a lasting ceasefire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to crush its remaining fighters in the far-southern city of Rafah, which is packed with displaced civilians.

The hawkish prime minister has insisted he will send ground troops into Rafah, despite strong concerns voiced by UN agencies and ally Washington for the safety of the 1.2 million civilians inside the city.

A top Hamas official accused Netanyahu on Friday of trying to derail a proposed Gaza truce and hostage release deal with his threats to keep fighting the militants.

“Netanyahu was the obstructionist of all previous rounds of dialogue… and it is clear that he still is,” senior Hamas official Hossam Badran told AFP by telephone.

– ‘Broken health system’ –

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agency was “deeply concerned that a full-scale military operation in Rafah… could lead to a bloodbath”.

“The broken health system would not be able to cope with a surge in casualties and deaths that a Rafah incursion would cause,” an agency statement said.

Badran charged that Netanyahu’s insistence on attacking Rafah was calculated to “thwart any possibility of concluding an agreement” in the negotiations brokered by Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators.

Israeli air strikes killed several more people in Rafah overnight, Palestinian medics and the civil defence agency said.

One bereaved resident, Sanaa Zoorob, said her sister and six of her nieces and nephews were killed.

Two of the children “were found in pieces in their mother’s embrace”, Zoorob said, appealing for “a permanent ceasefire and a full withdrawal from Gaza”.