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Hamas is reviewing an Israeli proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza, as a planned Rafah offensive looms

CAIRO — Hamas said Saturday that it was reviewing a new Israeli proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza, as Egypt intensified efforts to broker a deal to end the months-long war and stave off a planned Israeli ground offensive into the southern city of Rafah.

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya gave no details of Israel’s offer, but said it was in response to a proposal from Hamas two weeks ago. Negotiations earlier this month centered on a six-week cease-fire proposal and the release of 40 civilian and sick hostages in exchange for freeing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

A separate Hamas statement said leaders from the three main terrorist groups active in Gaza discussed attempts to end the war. It didn’t mention the Israeli proposal.

The Hamas statements came hours after a high-level Egyptian delegation wrapped up a visit to Israel where it discussed a “new vision” for a prolonged cease-fire in Gaza, according to an Egyptian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss the developments.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Israel’s new proposal was directly related to Friday’s visit by Egyptian mediators.

The discussions between Egyptian and Israeli officials focused on the first stage of a multi-phase plan that would include a limited exchange of hostages held by Hamas terrorists for Palestinian prisoners, and the return of a significant number of displaced Palestinians to their homes in northern Gaza “with minimum restrictions,” the Egyptian official said.

The mediators are working on a compromise that will answer most of both parties’ main demands, which could pave the way to continued negotiations with the goal of a larger deal to end the war, the official said.

There is growing international pressure for Hamas and Israel to reach an agreement on a cease-fire and avert a possible Israeli attack on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have sought refuge.

Israel has been insisting for months it plans a ground offensive into Rafah, on the border with Egypt, where it says many remaining Hamas terrorists are holed up.

Egypt has cautioned an offensive into Rafah could have “catastrophic consequences” on the humanitarian situation in Gaza as well as on regional peace and security.

The Israeli military has massed dozens of tanks and armored vehicles in southern Israel close to Rafah, and hit locations in the city in near-daily airstrikes.

Elsewhere, Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinian men at a checkpoint in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the military said. It said the men had opened fire from a vehicle at troops stationed at Salem checkpoint near the Palestinian city of Jenin.

Washington has been critical of Israeli policies in the West Bank. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is expected in Israel on Tuesday, recently determined an army unit committed rights abuses there before the war in Gaza.

But Blinken said in an undated letter to U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, obtained by The Associated Press on Friday, that he’s postponing a decision on blocking aid to the unit to give Israel more time to right the wrongdoing. Blinken stressed that overall U.S. military support for Israel’s defense wouldn’t be affected by the State Department’s eventual decision.

The U.S. has also been building a pier to deliver aid to Gaza through a new port. Israel’s military said Saturday that it would be operational by early May.

The BBC reported the U.K. government was considering deploying troops to drive the trucks to carry the aid to shore, citing unidentified government sources. British officials declined to comment on the report.

Another aid effort, a three-ship flotilla coming from Turkey, was prevented from sailing, organizers said.

Hamas said Friday that it was open to any “ideas or suggestions” that take into consideration Palestinians’ needs. It has said it won’t back down from demands for a permanent cease-fire and full withdrawal of Israeli troops. Israel has rejected both and said it will continue military operations until Hamas is defeated and that it will retain a security presence in Gaza.

Student protests over the war are growing on college campuses in the U.S., while demonstrations continue in many countries.

Hamas sparked the war by attacking into southern Israel on Oct. 7, with terrorists killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage. Israel says the terrorists still hold around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s offensive, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza. Its count doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Israel blames Hamas for civilian casualties, accusing it of embedding in residential areas. Israel has reported at least 260 soldiers killed since the start of ground operations.

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