CIA director to travel to Israel for more cease-fire and hostage talks

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CIA Director William Burns is set to travel to Israel on Monday to continue cease-fire negotiations between Israel and Hamas, The Associated Press (AP) reported, as Israeli leaders downplay the likelihood of any deal that could end the conflict.

Burns has repeatedly traveled to the Middle East to assist in negotiations between the two sides, working toward a deal to free the remaining hostages held by Hamas. He participated in a negotiation in Cairo, Egypt, on Saturday, which Hamas described as “in-depth and serious discussions.”

Israeli representatives did not attend the Saturday meeting, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant saying that an attack on the Gaza city of Rafah by the Israeli military is in the “very near future.” The Biden administration has repeatedly urged the Israeli government not to invade Rafah without a proper plan to avoid civilian casualties.

Negotiations have become rocky in recent days despite previous progress, after Hamas attacked an Israeli border crossing and Israel announced it will close the Qatari-operated Al Jazeera office in Gaza. Qatar has acted as an intermediary between Israel and Hamas during negotiations for months.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also downplayed prospects of a deal, calling Hamas’s demands “extreme” and committing to continuing the war against the militant group.

The resistance to a deal comes as the United Nations warns that famine has set in among the more than 2 million people in Gaza. U.N. leaders have repeatedly warned that the amount of humanitarian aid that Israel has allowed into Gaza is far from enough to maintain the population.

Gaza’s vast humanitarian needs put pressure on the pursuit of a cease-fire. The proposal that Egyptian mediators put to Hamas sets out a three-stage process that would bring an immediate, six-week cease-fire and partial release of Israeli hostages taken on Oct. 7, and it would include some sort of Israeli pullout. The initial stage would last for 40 days. Hamas would start by releasing female civilian hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, the AP reported.

An Israeli strike Sunday on a house in an urban refugee camp near Rafah killed four children, including a baby, and two adults, all from the same family, according to Abu Youssef al-Najjar Hospital.

Another Israeli strike on the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza killed at least five people, according to Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, which received the bodies. Israel’s military said it struck a Hamas command center in central Gaza. It didn’t mention casualties.

In a fiery speech for Israel’s annual Holocaust memorial day, Netanyahu added: “I say to the leaders of the world, no amount of pressure, no decision by any international forum will stop Israel from defending itself.”

The Associated Press contributed.

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