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Cease-fire talks expected to resume this week as Hamas appears to soften demands

Cease-fire talks expected to resume this week as Hamas appears to soften demands

Talks on a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip are expected to resume this week, with several officials saying the devastation caused by Israel's nine-month offensive likely helped push Hamas to soften its demands.

Hamas over the weekend appeared to drop its longstanding demand that Israel promise to end the war as part of any cease-fire deal. The sudden shift has raised new hopes for progress in the internationally brokered negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has boasted that military pressure — including Israel’s ongoing two-month offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah — “is what has led Hamas to enter negotiations.”

Netanyahu’s office said Israeli negotiators will resume talks this week on a cease-fire with Hamas which had been stalled for weeks, signaling progress toward a deal to end the war in Gaza. But it said “there are still gaps between the parties.”

Hamas wants an agreement that ensures Israeli troops fully leave Gaza and that the war ends. Israel says it cannot halt the war before the Palestinian militant group is eliminated. Postwar governance and security control of the enclave have also been contentious issues.

Israel launched the war in Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250.

Since then, Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 38,000 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.

The war has caused massive devastation across the besieged territory and displaced most of its 2.3 million people, often multiple times. Israeli restrictions, fighting and the breakdown of law and order have curtailed humanitarian aid efforts, causing widespread hunger and sparking fears of famine. The top U.N. court has ordered Israel to take steps to protect the Palestinians as it examines genocide allegations against Israeli leaders. Israel strongly denies the charge.

Currently:

— Gaza destruction likely helped push Hamas to soften cease-fire demands, several officials say.

— Rafah is a dusty, rubble-strewn ghost town 2 months after Israel invaded to root out Hamas.

— Gaza soccer stadium is now a shelter for thousands of displaced Palestinians.

— A look at how settlements have grown in the West Bank over the years.

— Reformist Pezeshkian beats hard-liner to win Iran presidential election, promising outreach to West.

— Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Gaza at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.

Here’s the latest:

US condemns Iran for sending weapons to Yemen's Houthi rebels

UNITED NATIONS — The United States is again condemning Iran for illegally transferring weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have been attacking ships in the Red Sea to pressure Israel to halt its war against Hamas in Gaza.

U.S. deputy ambassador Stephanie Sullivan said despite Iranian denials that it is providing weapons, “its own state affiliated media has touted the country’s supply of prohibited ballistic missile technology to the Houthis, something U.N. experts have concluded as well and published in their reports.”

Sullivan spoke after the U.N. Security Council on Monday unanimously approved a 12-month extension of the U.N. mission to support the December 2018 Hodeida Agreement, which monitors the implementation of a cease-fire agreement in Yemen’s key port city of Hodeida between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government.

Since November, the Houthis have targeted more than 60 vessels by firing missiles and drones, killing a total of four sailors, in support of the Palestinians in Gaza. A U.S.-led airstrike campaign has targeted the Houthis since January, killing at least 16 people and wounding 42 others, the rebels say.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward said Monday’s extension of the mandate allowing continued patrolling of the Red Sea ports of Hodeida and the smaller ports of Salif and Ras Isa, and support for their demilitarization, “sends a clear message of the continued importance of the cease-fire in Hodeida and the work to preserve it.”

Yemen has been engulfed in civil war since 2014 when the Houthis seized much of northern Yemen and forced the government to flee from the capital, Sanaa. A Saudi-led coalition intervened the following year in support of government forces, and in time the conflict turned into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The war has killed more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.

UN agency in Gaza says half its facilities there have been destroyed and over 500 people killed

CAIRO — The head of the main U.N. agency providing aid to Gaza says half its facilities in the territory have been destroyed since the war began. Philippe Lazzarini also said more than 500 people have been killed in those attacks, including employees and displaced people sheltering there.

The commissioner-general of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees spoke at a news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Badr Abdelaty, who reiterated Egypt’s support for the agency known as UNRWA.

Israel has accused UNRWA of turning a blind eye or collaborating with Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza, and of perpetuating the decades-old Palestinian refugee crisis, accusations the agency denies.

UNRWA provides basic services to millions of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation and their descendants, who make up a majority of Gaza’s population.

Families of hostages urge Netanyahu to delay his speech to the U.S. Congress until a deal to release them is signed

TEL AVIV, Israel — A group representing the families of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to postpone his speech to the U.S. Congress until a deal to release their relatives is signed.

Netanyahu is to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress on July 24. Israel and Hamas are currently engaged in some of the most serious talks in months on an agreement that would halt the war in exchange for the release of hostages as well as hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The hostage families' group called on Netanyahu to prioritize a deal before he travels abroad.

“A speech without concrete action to seal the deal and bring our loved ones home is premature and misses the mark of this war’s top priority -- the return of all the hostages,” it said in a statement.

Families of hostages have grown increasingly frustrated with Netanyahu and his government’s inability or unwillingness to bring the captives home. Protests across the country on Sunday demanded that Netanyahu nail down a deal that would free the hostages and called for his resignation.

The impatience was also felt Monday, when the brother of one hostage was forcibly removed from a parliamentary committee meeting. Video showed about half a dozen security guards dragging Danny Elgarat by his arms and legs as an uproar erupted in the room, with participants shouting, “Shame on you!”

Elgarat was asked to leave the room after arguing with another relative of a hostage and accusing the committee chairman, an ultranationalist lawmaker, of funding a marginal hostage family advocacy group that opposes stopping the war in exchange for releasing the captives, Israeli media reported.

Gaza destruction likely helped push Hamas to soften cease-fire demands, several officials say

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Several officials in the Middle East and the U.S. believe the level of devastation in the Gaza Strip caused by a nine-month Israeli offensive likely has helped push Hamas to soften its demands for a cease-fire agreement.

Hamas over the weekend appeared to drop its longstanding demand that Israel promise to end the war as part of any cease-fire deal. The sudden shift has raised new hopes for progress in internationally brokered negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday boasted that military pressure — including Israel’s ongoing two-month offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah — “is what has led Hamas to enter negotiations.”

Netanyahu's office said a team of Israeli negotiators will resume talks this week on a cease-fire with Hamas, signaling progress toward a deal to end the war in Gaza. It said Friday that negotiators will emphasize to U.S., Qatari and Egyptian mediators that “there are still gaps between the parties” during the talks in Doha, Qatar’s capital.

Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, is highly secretive and little is known about its inner workings.

But in recent internal communications seen by The Associated Press, messages signed by several senior Hamas figures in Gaza urged the group’s exiled political leadership to accept the cease-fire proposal pitched by U.S. President Joe Biden.

The messages, shared by a Middle East official familiar with the ongoing negotiations, described the heavy losses Hamas has suffered on the battlefield and the dire conditions in the war-ravaged territory. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to share the contents of internal Hamas communications.

Residents flee neighborhood in Gaza City after Israel orders evacuation

CAIRO — Residents were fleeing their homes and shelters in eastern Gaza City overnight into Monday after the Israeli military ordered the evacuations of five residential blocks in the area, which saw heavy clashes with Palestinian militants.

It was unclear how many people had fled the area, but residents said thousands of people had departed seeking safety. The United Nations and other aid groups did not immediately have estimates.

The new exodus occurred in the north of the Gaza Strip, an area hard-hit in the early weeks of the war that Israel previously said it had seized control of. The evacuation orders are the latest sign that Hamas is regrouping in areas said to be under Israeli control. Residents also reported intense bombing by Israeli warplanes in the eastern and southern parts of Gaza City.

Ground fighting has also raged in the Shijaiyah neighborhood and its surroundings for the past two weeks.

“We fled in the darkness amid heavy strikes,” said Sayeda Abdel-Baki, a mother of three children who was sheltering at her relatives’ home. “This is my fifth displacement.”

The Israeli military said it was conducting “counterterrorism” operations in Gaza City that came after intelligence indicated militant activity there. Its statement did not specify in what areas of the city it was operating.

Fadel Naeem, the director of the Al-Ahli hospital, which is close to the evacuated area, said patients and their companions fled the facility in panic. He said there were no evacuation orders for the hospital but “hundreds of patients and companions have panicked and left for fear of the worst.” He said patients with critical conditions have been evacuated to other hospitals in northern Gaza.

The Israeli military renewed its ground offensive on Shijaiyah last month, forcing between 60,000 and 80,000 people to flee the area.

Israeli airstrikes in southern Lebanon kill at least one person

BEIRUT — Israeli airstrikes in various parts of southern Lebanon early Monday killed at least one person and hundreds of livestock.

The strikes came as tensions continued to boil between Lebanon’s Hezbollah group and the Israeli military along the Lebanon-Israel border, and as talks on a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip between Hamas and Israel are set to resume.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said an Israeli strike at Qlaileh near the coastal city of Tyre targeting a motorcycle killed one person and wounded another.

It said three other strikes at Jabal Toura in the southeast destroyed the house of a shepherd and a livestock farm.

Hussein Ammar, owner of the farm, said almost 200 livestock were killed.

“Half of my stock is gone,” he said.

Fighting since Oct. 8 has displaced tens of thousands of people on both sides of the border. In northern Israel, 16 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed. In Lebanon, more than 450 people, mostly fighters but also dozens of civilians, have been killed.

Israeli protesters block highways, call on Netanyahu to step down

TEL AVIV, Israel — Marking nine months since the war in Gaza started, Israeli protesters blocked highways across the country Sunday, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step down and pushing for a cease-fire to bring back scores of hostages held by Hamas.

The demonstrations come as long-running efforts to broker a truce gained momentum last week when Hamas dropped a key demand for an Israeli commitment to end the war. The militant group still wants mediators to guarantee a permanent cease-fire, while Netanyahu is vowing to keep fighting until Israel destroys Hamas’ military and governing capabilities.

“Any deal will allow Israel to return and fight until all the goals of the war are achieved,” Netanyahu said in a statement Sunday that was likely to deepen Hamas’ concerns about the proposal.

Sunday’s “Day of Disruption” started at 6:29 a.m., the same time Hamas militants launched the first rockets toward Israel in the Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war. Protesters blocked main roads and demonstrated outside of the homes of government ministers.

Near the border with Gaza, Israeli protestors released 1,500 black and yellow balloons to symbolize those fellow citizens who were killed and abducted.

The United States has rallied the world behind a proposal for a phased cease-fire in which Hamas would release the remaining captives in return for a lasting cease-fire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. But Hamas wants guarantees from mediators that the war will end, while Israel wants the freedom to resume fighting if talks over releasing the last batch of hostages drag on.

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