Gaza war: US presses for ceasefire as hopes rise of deal at Paris peace talks

Smoke billowing during Israeli bombardment on Khan Yunis (AFP via Getty Images)
Smoke billowing during Israeli bombardment on Khan Yunis (AFP via Getty Images)
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The United States pushed efforts to secure a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas heading into a peace summit expected this weekend in Paris.

The head of the Mossad intelligence service was reportedly set to lead Israel’s delegation to the summit, where mediators from the US, Egypt and Qatar are readying new proposals in the hope of averting a threatened ground offensive by Israel on the teeming city of Rafah in Gaza.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s three-man war cabinet, indicated some flexibility by saying: "We will expand the authority given to our hostage negotiators.”

After speaking to Mr Gallant, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said: “We discussed the need for more aid to reach Palestinian civilians in Gaza and the need for a plan to ensure the safety of and support for those sheltering in Rafah before any military operations proceed there.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz hold a press conference (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz hold a press conference (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

White House Mideast envoy Brett McGurk held talks throughout Thursday with Israeli leaders and families of Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

"The initial indications we're getting from Brett are these discussions are going well," White House spokesman John Kirby said.

A Western diplomat involved in the mediation efforts said: "What we have heard from our partners is that they are willing to give concessions. Time is pressing them."

Hamas has been demanding the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, which Prime Minister Netanyahu has dismissed as “delusional”.

On the ground, Israeli strikes killed more than 70 people in southern and central Gaza, according to Palestinian health officials, who say that more than 29,000 people have been killed and nearly 70,000 wounded in the narrow coastal strip during Israel’s invasion.

People mourn relatives killed in overnight Israeli bombardment (AFP via Getty Images)
People mourn relatives killed in overnight Israeli bombardment (AFP via Getty Images)

After fleeing fighting further north, some 1.4 million people are huddled in Rafah on the border of Gaza with Egypt. Israel has warned the offensive will start on the city by Ramadan next month unless Hamas releases about 100 hostages it is still holding after its terrorist fighters slaughtered 1,200 Israelis in raids on October 7.

Tensions were also high in the Israeli-occupied West Bank after three Palestinian gunmen yesterday opened fire on morning traffic at a highway checkpoint, killing one man and wounding five others. Two of the attackers were killed by security forces at the scene, near Jerusalem.