Egypt hosts urgent ceasefire talks as Israel threatens to invade Rafah

As Israel prepares to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, a densely populated city in Gaza, Egypt is hosting a last-ditch effort to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, with the involvement of the US, Qatar and other regional players.

Egyptian media report that Cairo is hosting renewed talks for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

High-level representatives from the US, Israel, Egypt and Qatar are participating in the negotiations, while Israel faces intense global pressure to halt its attacks on the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Around 1.5 million people are squeezed into this tiny border town, with the threat of an Israeli ground invasion looming.

Israel’s PM dismissed Hamas’s ceasefire offers as “delusional” last week.

Benjamin Netanyahu claimed he could achieve “total victory” in Gaza in a matter of months. He then instructed Israeli soldiers to get ready to enlarge their ground operation, and pledged to overcome Hamas fighters hiding in Rafah.

However, UN human rights chief Volker Türk warned that any attack on the city would be “terrifying” and many civilians “will likely be killed”.

US President Joe Biden has appealed for the protection of civilians in the area.

Rafah has been hit by severe Israeli air strikes in recent days, with casualties reported.

The talks in Cairo are ongoing despite Israel’s refusal of Hamas’s conditions.

Netanyahu has dispatched his intelligence chief, David Barnea, to the discussions to attempt to make more progress – Israeli media said he did so under American pressure.

He is accompanied by the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency William Burns, Egyptian intelligence officials and Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

There is a proposal for a temporary truce on the table, involving releasing Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and a period of calm.

Qatar and Egypt, with US backing, have been mediating between Israel and Hamas to try to reach a deal.

Israel says 134 hostages are still missing out of the 253 captured by Hamas-led gunmen during the 7 October assaults on southern Israel. Some hostages have been freed – including most recently two male Israeli-Argentines – but some have died.

At least 1,200 people were killed during the Hamas-led assaults.

Israel initiated military operations in the Gaza Strip in response to them. Some 28,473 Palestinians have been killed and more than 68,000 wounded in Gaza since 7 October, according to the Hamas-run health ministry there.

More than half of the Gaza Strip’s population of 2.3 million is now packed into Rafah, on the border with Egypt, which had only 250,000 residents before the war between Israel and Hamas.

Many of the displaced people are living in makeshift shelters or tents in filthy conditions, with limited access to safe drinking water or food.

Alongside the US, several countries and international organisations have cautioned Israel against launching its planned offensive.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron on Monday said Israel should “stop and think seriously” before taking further action in Rafah.

EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged allies of Israel to stop sending weapons, as “too many people” were being killed in Gaza.

Last week, Saudi Arabia warned of “very serious repercussions” if Rafah was stormed.

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