White House says gaps remain between Israel and Hamas on ceasefire deal

Smoke rises from Gaza, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, as seen from Israel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senior U.S. officials are in Cairo for talks to achieve a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, but gaps still remain between the two sides, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said on Monday.

Speaking at a briefing, Kirby said CIA Director Bill Burns and U.S. Middle East envoy Brett McGurk were in Egypt, meeting with their Egyptian, Israeli and Jordanian counterparts on Monday. He added that there will be follow-on discussions in the next few days.

"We've been working this very, very hard. And there are still some gaps that remain in the two sides in the positions, but we wouldn't have sent a team over there if we didn't think that we had a shot here," Kirby said.

"We're trying to close those gaps as best we can," he added.

Hamas last week dropped a demand that Israel first commit to a permanent ceasefire before the Palestinian movement would sign an agreement. Instead, the militant group said it would allow negotiations to achieve that throughout the six-week first phase, a Hamas source told Reuters on Saturday.

The move prompted an official on the Israeli negotiating team to say there was a real chance of a deal.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists the deal must not prevent Israel from resuming fighting until its war objectives are met. At the outset of the war, he pledged to annihilate Hamas.

The latest bloodshed in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict was triggered on Oct. 7 when fighters led by Hamas, which controlled Gaza, attacked southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostages, according to Israeli figures.

Since then at least 38,193 Palestinians have been killed in the military offensive and 87,903 have been wounded, Gaza's health ministry said in an update on Monday.

Kirby repeated Washington's long-standing position that Israel should do more to protect civilians.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Humeyra Pamuk and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman)