Hamas delegation due in Cairo on Monday for Gaza ceasefire talks

Palestinian children inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a house, in Rafah

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Andrew Mills

CAIRO/DOHA (Reuters) -A Hamas delegation will visit Cairo on Monday for talks aimed at securing a ceasefire, a Hamas official told Reuters on Sunday, as mediators stepped up efforts to reach a deal ahead of an expected Israeli assault on the southern city of Rafah.

The official, who asked not to be named, said the delegation would discuss a ceasefire proposal handed by Hamas to mediators from Qatar and Egypt, as well as Israel's response.

He did not disclose details of the latest proposals, but a source briefed on the talks told Reuters Hamas is expected to respond to Israel’s latest Gaza phased truce proposal delivered on Saturday.

The source said this included an agreement to accept the release of fewer than 40 hostages in exchange for releasing Palestinians held in Israeli jails and to a second phase of a truce that includes a "period of sustained calm" - Israel’s compromise response to a Hamas demand for permanent ceasefire.

After the first phase, Israel would allow free movement between south and north Gaza and a partial withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, the source said.

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke on Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the White House said they reviewed talks designed to secure the release of hostages held since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on Israel coupled with an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

They also discussed an increased pace of aid deliveries, including preparations to open new crossings into Gaza, it said.

"The President stressed the need for this progress to be sustained and enhanced in full coordination with humanitarian organizations," the statement said.

Biden also "reiterated his clear position" on a possible invasion of the Gaza border city of Rafah, the White House said.

Washington has said that it could not support a Rafah operation without an appropriate and credible humanitarian plan.

Shortly after the Biden-Netanyahu call, the U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Antony Blinken would expand a trip to the Middle East to discuss efforts towards a ceasefire and the freeing of hostages by continuing onto Jordan and Israel after visiting Saudi Arabia.

Another senior Hamas official told Reuters the delegation would fly to Cairo from Qatari capital Doha, adding it will be led by Khalil Al-Hayya, deputy to Hamas' Gaza chief.

The talks will take place between the Hamas delegation and the Qatari and the Egyptian mediators to discuss remarks the group has made over the Israeli response to its recent proposal.

"Hamas has some questions and inquires over the Israeli response to its proposal, which the movement received from mediators on Friday," the official told Reuters.

Those comments suggested Hamas may not hand an instant response to mediators over Israel's latest proposal.

The war, now in its seventh month, was triggered by an attack by Hamas militants on Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 and taking 253 hostages, by Israeli tallies.

Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas, which controls Gaza, in a military operation that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, 66 of them in the past 24 hours, according to Gaza's health authorities. The war has displaced most of the 2.3 million population and laid much of the enclave to waste.

On Friday, Khalil Al-Hayya said the group had received Israel's response to its ceasefire proposal and was studying it before handing its response to Egyptian and Qatari mediators.

Prior rounds of talks have failed to bridge gaps in the two sides' positions.

Israel has only offered a temporary ceasefire to free around 130 hostages remaining in captivity and to allow the delivery of more humanitarian aid. It has said it won't end its operations until it has achieved its aim of destroying Hamas.


Israel's foreign minister said on Saturday a planned incursion into Rafah, where more than one million displaced Palestinians are sheltering, could be put off should a deal emerge to release the Israeli hostages.

The issue has created cracks in Netanyahu's coalition. Hawkish ministers insist on the Rafah incursion while centrist partners have said a hostage deal is the top priority.

Hardline nationalist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Sunday urged Netanyahu not to back down from an assault on Rafah and said that agreeing to the ceasefire proposal would constitute a humiliating defeat.

Without eradicating Hamas, "a government headed by you will have no right to exist," Smotrich, who is not a member of the war cabinet, said in a video statement addressed to Netanyahu.

Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz said in a post on X: "Entering Rafah is important in the long struggle against Hamas. The return of our abductees ... is urgent and of far greater importance."

Western countries, including the United States, Israel's closest ally, have urged Israel to refrain from attacking the border city on concern over potential civilian casualties.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said on Sunday Israel had agreed to listen to U.S. concerns before it launches an invasion of Rafah.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Riyadh on Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said only the United States could stop Israel from attacking Rafah.

He said he expected an attack on Rafah in coming days and that even a "small strike" would force the Palestinian population to flee the Gaza Strip.

"The biggest catastrophe in the Palestinian people's history would then happen."

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah said it was in "everybody's interest in the region, our interest, the interest of the Palestinians, the interest of the Israelis, in the interest of the global community of nations, that we find a pathway to resolve this issue once and for all."

(Reporting and writing by Nidal Al Mughrabi; Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw, Steve Holland, Humeyra Pamuk and Davuid Brunnstrom in Washington; Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Steve Scheer in Jerusalem and Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Ros Russell, David Holmes and Diane Craft)