Israel battles on as Hamas signals truce for hostages


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The Israeli military is rapidly expanding its foothold in northern Gaza as Hamas leaders signalled their readiness for a “truce”, raising the prospect of a temporary pause in the war that might see some hostages freed.

A short statement on Telegram, purportedly from Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, said the Islamic Resistance Movement had “delivered its response to the brothers in Qatar and the mediators, and we are close to reaching a truce agreement”.

Israel, Hamas and the US are involved in talks being mediated by Qatar to agree a short humanitarian ceasefire, or at least a temporary pause in hostilities, that could allow at least 50 civilian hostages held by Hamas to be released, several people close to the negotiations have told the Financial Times. Haniyeh’s statement is the first to publicly signal Hamas’s willingness to do so.

US President Biden said on Monday that he hoped a deal was close, without giving details. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which has handled the logistics of prior releases, also met Haniyeh in Qatar on Monday. A hostage deal is “very, very close,” a person close to the negotiations told the Financial Times.

It is unclear what influence Haniyeh has on the talks — he represents Hamas’s political bureau overseas, while most of the hostages are being held by the Qassem Brigades, the military wing, which is headed by Yahyeh Sinwar.

In Gaza, the fighting has kept up pace, with Israeli troops now operating in the vicinity of the barely functional Indonesian Hospital, near the northern edge of the Strip. Nearly a dozen people died after an explosion at the hospital early on Monday, local health officials said, while Israel said it responded to fire on its troops from within the hospital.

The IDF is also fighting in eastern parts of Gaza City. A few pockets of Hamas militants remain within the city limits, which Israel has encircled and penetrated from every direction since its ground invasion began on October 27.

The IDF estimates it has eliminated two entire battalions of Hamas fighters, while significantly degrading the capabilities of others, with its relentless aerial bombardment, which has shielded its soldier’s advance while destroying more than half of the buildings in northern Gaza.

Separately, the Israeli army appears to have detained a celebrated poet, Mosab Abu Toha, at a checkpoint in Gaza as he tried to flee south.

Toha has published essays in the New Yorker and the Financial Times since the war began, documenting the toll Israel’s bombardment has taken on civilians and his family. He was named a finalist in 2022 for the prestigious American National Book Critics Circle poetry award for a collection of poems called “Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear: Poems from Gaza”.

Toha was detained with about 200 other people at the checkpoint on Monday, a person familiar with his detention said. Palestinians using the official evacuation corridor must approach the checkpoint with their hands in the air before being allowed through. Toha was travelling with his infant son, a US citizen, and his wife. The IDF did not respond to a request for comment on his detention.

This post was originally published on Financial Times

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