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'Gaps are narrowing' in talks for Israel-Hamas ceasefire, US says

Smoke billows after Israeli bombardment on Rafah (AFP via Getty Images)
Smoke billows after Israeli bombardment on Rafah (AFP via Getty Images)

The “gaps are narrowing” in negotiations for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.

The US, Egypt and Qatar have spent several weeks trying to broker deal which will bring the release of Israeli hostages and some respite for Gazans.

Mr Blinken's sixth visit to the region since the start of the Israel-Hamas war began in Saudi Arabia before going to Egypt on Thursday with a stop in Israel planned for Friday.

In an interview with the Al-Hadath network in Saudi Arabia, Mr Blinken said the mediators worked with Israel to put a "strong proposal" on the table.

He said Hamas rejected it, but came back with other demands that the mediators are working on.

"The gaps are narrowing, and I think an agreement is very much possible," Mr Blinken said.

 (AP)
(AP)

The Health Ministry in Gaza raised the territory's death toll on Thursday to nearly 32,000 Palestinians.

The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

A United Nations food agency warned that "famine is imminent" in northern Gaza.

Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people in the surprise October 7 attack out of Gaza that triggered the war, and abducted another 250 people.

Hamas is still believed to be holding some 100 people hostage, as well as the remains of 30 others.

The draft resolution also "unequivocally supports ongoing international diplomatic efforts to secure such a ceasefire in connection with the release of all remaining hostages".

The previous US draft would have unequivocally supported diplomatic efforts "to establish an immediate and sustained ceasefire as part of a deal that releases the hostages".

It was not widely supported in the 15-member council where 13 members had voted in favour of an Arab-backed resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza that the US vetoed on February 20.

The new US draft states in strong language that the Security Council "determines the imperative of an immediate and sustained ceasefire", with no direct link to the release of hostages taken during Hamas' surprise attack on Israel on October 7.

US deputy ambassador Robert Wood told reporters who asked Thursday when a vote would take place: "We would like to do it as soon as possible ... maybe before the end of the week."

"We think it is a good text.

"Everyone should be able to get behind it," Mr Wood said.

"And we're going to continue to work to the last minute to make sure that we get as many votes as possible."

Meanwhile, the 10 elected members of the Security Council have been drafting their own resolution which would demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which began on March 10 "respected by all parties leading to a permanent sustainable ceasefire".

It also demands "the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages".