No progress in Gaza ceasefire talks with Israel, says Hamas official

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

CAIRO (Reuters) -A senior official of the militant Islamist group Hamas, Osama Hamdan, said on Saturday there has been no progress in ceasefire talks with Israel over the Gaza war.

The Palestinian group is still ready to "deal positively" with any ceasefire proposal that ends the war, Hamdan told a news conference in Beirut.

Arab mediators' efforts, backed by the United States, have so far failed to conclude a ceasefire, with both sides blaming each other for the impasse. Hamas says any deal must end the war and bring full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, while Israel says it will accept only temporary pauses in fighting until Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, is eradicated.

Hamdan also blamed the United States for applying pressure on Hamas to accept Israel's conditions.

"Once again, Hamas is ready to deal positively with any proposal that secures a permanent ceasefire, a comprehensive withdrawal from Gaza Strip and a serious swap deal," said Hamdan, referring to a potential swap of hostages held in Gaza for Palestinians in Israeli prisons.

When Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7 they killed around 1,200 people and seized more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

The Israeli offensive in retaliation has so far killed nearly 38,000 people, according to the Gaza health ministry, and has left the heavily built-up coastal enclave in ruins.

The Gaza health ministry does not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants but officials say most of the dead are civilians. Israel has lost more than 300 soldiers in Gaza and says at least a third of the Palestinian dead are fighters.

Palestinian health officials said Israeli military strikes across the enclave had so far killed at least 35 people and wounded others on Saturday.

The Israeli military on Saturday announced the death of two soldiers killed in combat in northern Gaza, as Israeli forces pressed on with an offensive in the Shejaia neighborhood in Gaza City.

Residents said tanks advanced deeper into several districts including the area around the local market and there was heavy fire from the air and the ground.

The armed wing of Hamas and the allied Islamic Jihad reported fierce fighting, saying fighters fired anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs against the forces operating there.

The Israeli military said dozens of Palestinian gunmen were killed over the past two days in close quarters combat and airstrikes in Shejaia, after forces encircled what it described as a civilian area converted by Hamas into a militant compound.

"In the area, the troops located observation posts, weapons, enemy drones and a long-range rocket launcher near the schools," the military said in a statement.

Hamas has denied assertions that it operates in civilian areas such as schools and hospitals.

More than eight months into Israel's air and ground war in Gaza, militants continued to stage attacks on Israeli forces, operating in areas that the Israeli army said it had gained control over months ago.

Israeli leaders have said in the past week that the intense phase of the war is approaching its end, and that the next stage of the offensive will mainly be smaller-scale operations meant to stop Hamas from reassembling.

Meanwhile Israeli forces operating in several districts in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, killed several Palestinians and forced families living in the far western edge of the city along the coastal areas to head northwards, according to Palestinian medical officials and residents.

Israel has said its military operations in Rafah are aimed at eradicating the last armed battalions of Hamas.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ahmed Tolba in CairoAdditional reporting by Maayan Lubell in JerusalemWriting by Hatem MaherEditing by Frances Kerry and Christina Fincher)