Israeli strikes kill at least 40 Palestinians in Gaza, as ceasefire talks begin

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

CAIRO (Reuters) -Israeli airstrikes killed dozens of Palestinians on Monday as Hamas leaders visited Cairo for a new round of truce talks, with more than half the dead in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which foreign leaders have urged Israel not to invade.

Hours after the strikes on Rafah, where almost half of Gaza's 2.3 million population have sought refuge from months of Israeli bombardment, Egypt's state-affiliated television said the Hamas delegation left Cairo for Doha and would return at an unspecified later date with a written response to the ceasefire proposal.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Hamas to swiftly accept what he called an "extraordinarily generous" Israeli proposal for a truce in the Gaza war and the release of Israeli hostages held by the Palestinian militant group.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke by phone to discuss developments in negotiations regarding a ceasefire in Gaza and dangers of military escalation.

Bombs hit three houses in Rafah on Monday. And in Gaza City, in the north of the strip, Israeli warplanes struck two houses, killing at least six people and wounding several others, health officials said.

With nightfall, an Israeli air strike on a house in the Al-Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza killed three Palestinians, including a journalist, medics and Hamas media said. Six other people were killed in other central Gaza areas in separate Israeli air strikes, they added.

Israel's military on Monday said two soldiers were killed in central Gaza on Sunday.

The armed wing of the Hamas-allied Islamic Jihad said it fired rockets into Israel on Monday, signaling the group was still able to launch rocket attacks after nearly seven months of the Israeli air and ground offensive.

Asked about the Rafah strikes, an Israeli military (IDF) spokesperson said fighter jets had "struck terror targets where terrorists were operating within a civilian area in southern Gaza," declining to give details.

At a Rafah hospital, relatives of those killed in the strikes came to take the bodies away for burial. Women and men cried as they paid farewell to slain relatives wrapped in white and black shrouds.


"His name is Deif-Allah (meaning guest in Arabic) and he was indeed a guest. He came as a guest after (his parents) longed for (him) for so long, after 10 years," said Abu Taha, holding the body of his baby boy.

"Ten people (were killed), the mother, her daughter, her granddaughters, her grandson, her son-in-law, their daughters and relatives, everyone. They're all gone, all 10 of them."

Speaking on Monday at a World Economic Forum meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Egypt was hopeful about a proposal for a truce and the release of hostages, but awaiting responses from Israel and Hamas.

"We are hopeful the proposal has taken into account the positions of both sides, has tried to extract moderation from both sides, and we are waiting to have a final decision," Shoukry said.

A Palestinian official close to mediation efforts told Reuters: "Things look better this time," but declined to say whether an agreement was imminent.

Israel's military operation to eradicate Hamas has killed 34,488 Palestinians and wounded 77,643, according to Gaza's health authorities. It has displaced most of the Palestinian enclave's 2.3 million people and laid much of the area to waste.

The campaign was triggered by the Oct. 7 attack on Israel in which militants killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.


An assault on Rafah, which Israel says is the last Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip, has been anticipated for weeks. Foreign governments and the United Nations have expressed concern that such action could result in a humanitarian disaster given the number of displaced people crammed into the area.

Two Hamas officials who spoke to Reuters did not disclose details of the latest proposals, but a source briefed on the talks told Reuters Hamas was expected to respond to Israel’s latest 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 from 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 an end to the war.

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

In Tel Aviv, the families of two Israeli hostages who appeared in a video issued by Hamas over the weekend held a press conference, calling for an immediate deal that would secure the release of some 130 hostages still held.

"I want to ask everyone to stop the talking and start the actions. We are losing people that are alive now and there is no time to waste," said Elan Siegel, daughter of Keith Siegel, a 64-year-old dual U.S. citizen taken captive with his wife Aviva, who was released during a brief November truce.

A senior Hamas official told Reuters the Monday talks in Cairo would take place between the Hamas delegation and Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

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

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

(Reporting Nidal Al Mughrabi, Additional reporting by Andrew Mills, Henriette Chacar, Aidan Lewis and Maher Hatem; Writing by Nidal Al Mughrabi and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Angus MacSwan, Mark Heinrich, Sharon Singleton and David Gregorio)