Israeli officials express optimism about ceasefire talks with Hamas – Global News (Trending Perfect)

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(Bloomberg) — Senior Israeli officials said progress has been made in negotiations on a ceasefire in Gaza that would include the release of Palestinian hostages and prisoners, a move that drew criticism from far-right ministers who threatened to bring down the government. .

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“We have reached a critical point,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Army Radio on Monday. “If things work out, a large number of hostages will return home, and then, in stages, everyone will return. But remember, we are dealing with Hamas and there is not a lot of time. I am more optimistic than I was.”

Defense Minister Yoav Galant told military recruits that progress in the war had allowed Israel “to make difficult decisions to return the hostages.” I think we have reached an appropriate point.” Television channels reported that a session of the Security Council of Ministers, which generally meets on Thursday evening, has been called for Tuesday.

The comments were the most positive in months from senior officials regarding the talks between Israel and Hamas, which were brokered by the United States, Egypt and Qatar. Just last week, Israeli officials said that significant gaps remain between the two sides, with the Iran-backed militant group demanding a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza before any hostages are released.

However, international pressure on the Israelis has intensified since a rocket attack killed seven aid workers delivering food to displaced Palestinians a week ago, with President Joe Biden telling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that continued US support depends on improving steps to protect civilians.

On Sunday, Netanyahu announced the withdrawal of combat forces from the city of Khan Yunis after four months of fighting, the first major reduction of ground forces since a week-long ceasefire that ended in early December. Some have interpreted this move as a signal to Hamas that a deal is on the table.

Israeli assets rose on Monday, partly due to optimism that a truce is closer. The main stock index rose 1.5% as of 12:30 pm in Tel Aviv, while the shekel rose 1.3% against the dollar, heading towards its second best daily performance this year.

Read more: Israel faces tough call on interest rates as war on economic outlook clouds uncertainty

The reduction in ground forces – along with the ministers' comments – has angered Netanyahu's far-right coalition partners who want the war to continue until Hamas is destroyed. They threatened to topple the government if there was a permanent ceasefire, or if the prime minister decided not to launch an attack on the Gaza city of Rafah – seen as the last stronghold of Hamas and its leaders.

Rafah invasion

Gallant said that soldiers will be withdrawn from Khan Yunis so that they can prepare for the eventual invasion of Rafah. However, there remains the notion that the long-promised attack may not happen, something that is worrying some of the far-right coalition partners that Netanyahu relies on to keep his government intact.

Read more: Netanyahu's plan to enter the Rafah crossing faces growing opposition in Israel

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party said: “If the prime minister decides to end the war without launching a large-scale attack on Rafah in order to defeat Hamas, he will not have a mandate to continue his position as prime minister.” , published on X.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, from the Religious Zionism Party, called on Netanyahu to hold an urgent meeting of the expanded government to discuss developments in the war.

He said: “I have been warning for weeks that instead of standing down, we should increase pressure on Hamas in Gaza, and this is the only way we can return the hostages and destroy Hamas.”

The Israeli public broadcaster, Kan, said that Smotrich is sending a message to Netanyahu that his party will not agree to a permanent ceasefire or a hostage deal that goes further.

American pressure

For its part, Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, said on Monday that no progress had been made in the talks.

Israeli officials say that American negotiators in Cairo are putting heavy pressure on Israel and Hamas to reach an agreement. The United States wants Gaza to receive much greater humanitarian aid to combat disease and hunger, along with a long cessation of fighting and the release of hostages. From there, the United States hopes to extend the truce and begin rebuilding the devastated Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu said that unless Israel completely defeats Hamas, it will not win the war. But it is also under intense internal pressure to return as many of the more than 100 hostages still held in Gaza as possible.

The war began on October 7 when thousands of Hamas activists stormed Israel from Gaza, killing about 1,200 people and kidnapping 250. Israel attacked by air, sea and land, killing about 33,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. .

–With assistance from Alyssa Odenheimer and Galit Altstein.

(Updates on the security cabinet meeting in the third paragraph)

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