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Hamas chief says close to truce agreement with Israel

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By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -The chief of Hamas told Reuters on Tuesday that the Palestinian militant group was near a truce agreement with Israel, even as the deadly assault on Gaza continued and rockets were being fired into Israel.

Hamas officials are “close to reaching a truce agreement” with Israel and the group has delivered its response to Qatari mediators, Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement sent to Reuters by his aide.

There were no more details about the terms of the potential agreement.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Monday he believed an accord was near. “We’re closer now than we’ve been before,” White House spokesman John Kirby said of an agreement aimed at securing the release of some hostages held in Gaza and a pause in the fighting that would allow much needed aid into the besieged enclave.

Hamas took about 240 hostages during its Oct. 7 rampage into Israel that killed 1,200 people.

Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), met Haniyeh in Qatar on Monday to “advance humanitarian issues” related to the conflict, the Geneva-based ICRC said in a statement. She also met separately with Qatari authorities.

The ICRC said it was not part of negotiations aimed at releasing the hostages, but as a neutral intermediary it was ready “to facilitate any future release that the parties agree to.”

Talk of an imminent hostage deal has swirled for days. Reuters reported last week that Qatari mediators were seeking a deal for Hamas and Israel to exchange 50 hostages in return for a three-day ceasefire that would boost emergency aid shipments to Gaza civilians, citing an official briefed on the talks.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that he hoped for an agreement “in the coming days” while Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said that the remaining sticking points were “very minor.”

A deal has appeared close before.

“Sensitive negotiations like this can fall apart at the last minute,” White House deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program on Sunday. “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

Hamas’ raid on Oct. 7, the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year-old history, prompted Israel to invade the Palestinian territory to target Hamas.

Since then, Gaza’s Hamas-run government said at least 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 5,600 children and 3,550 women, by unrelenting Israeli bombardment.

Hamas said on its Telegram account on Monday that it had launched a barrage of missiles towards Tel Aviv. Witnesses also reported rockets being fired at central Israel.

HOSPITALS AT RISK

The Palestinian news agency WAFA said on Tuesday at least 17 Palestinians were killed in Israeli bombing of the Nuseirat camp in central Gaza at midnight.

There was no immediate comment from Israel.

Gaza’s health ministry said on Monday that at least 12 Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded by firing into the Indonesian Hospital complex, which was encircled by Israeli tanks.

Health officials said 700 patients along with staff were under Israeli fire.

WAFA said the facility in the northeast Gaza town of Beit Lahia, funded by Indonesian organisations, had been hit by artillery rounds. Hospital staff denied there were any armed militants on the premises.

World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “appalled” by the attack that he too said had killed 12 people, including patients, citing unspecified reports.

The Israeli Defence Forces said troops had fired back at fighters in the hospital while taking “numerous measures to minimise harm” to non-combatants.

Like all other health facilities in the northern half of Gaza, the Indonesian Hospital has largely ceased operations but is still sheltering patients, staff and displaced residents.

Twenty-eight prematurely born babies evacuated from Gaza’s biggest hospital, Al Shifa, were taken into Egypt for urgent treatment on Monday.

Israeli forces seized Shifa last week to search for what they said was a tunnel network built by Hamas beneath the hospital. Hundreds of patients, medical staff and displaced people left Shifa at the weekend, with doctors saying they were ejected by troops and Israel saying the departures were voluntary.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Idrees Ali and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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