CAIRO (AP) — Israel and Hamas on Monday offered a public welcome to an Egyptian proposal to end It was bittersweet. But longtime adversaries stopped short of rejecting the plan outright, raising the possibility of a new round of diplomacy to halt Israel's devastating offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The Egyptian plan calls for a phased release of hostages and the formation of a Palestinian government with experts to administer the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank, a senior Egyptian official and a European diplomat said.
The Egyptian official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the proposal, said details had been worked out with the Gulf state of Qatar and provided to Israel, Hamas, the US and European governments. Egypt and Qatar both mediate between Israel and Hamas, while the United States remains Israel's closest ally and a major power in the region.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not directly comment on the plan. But speaking to members of his Likud party, he said he was determined to go ahead with the offensive launched in response to Israel's attack. October 7 Hamas attack Killed 1,200 and took 240 hostages in southern Israel.
“We are expanding the fight in the coming days and it will be a long battle that is far from over,” he said.
Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel during the fighting. Late Monday, it fired a barrage of rockets, triggering air raid sirens in the southern city of Ashkelon. AP video showed multiple intercepts apparently by Israel's rocket defense system. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.
The Egyptian proposal falls short of Israel's stated goal of crushing Hamas. It also appears to conflict with Israel's insistence on maintaining military control over Gaza long after the war.
But Netanyahu faces intense domestic pressure to reach a deal to bring home more than 100 Israeli hostages held in Gaza.
As he vowed to continue the war during a speech to parliament, relatives of the hostages interrupted him and called for their immediate return. “Now! Now!” They shouted.
The rising death toll of Israeli soldiers in ground operations also threatens to undermine public support for the war. The Israeli army announced the deaths of two more soldiers on Monday, bringing the total number killed in the war to 156.
Netanyahu's war cabinet was expected to meet later Monday. It is unclear whether they will discuss the Egyptian plan.
Hamas has not officially responded to the proposal. But it is unclear whether Hamas will agree to relinquish power after controlling Gaza for the past 16 years.
Izzat Rishq, a senior Hamas official believed to be based in Qatar, issued a statement reiterating the group's stance that it would not negotiate without a “complete end to the occupation.” He said Hamas would not agree to “a temporary or partial ceasefire for a short period of time”.
Word of the proposal came as Israeli airstrikes hit central and southern Gaza hard.
At Magasi refugee camp on Monday, rescue workers were still pulling bodies from the rubble of the previous night's strike. Records from the nearby al-Aqsa hospital seen by The Associated Press showed at least 106 people were killed in what was one of the deadliest strikes of Israel's air campaign.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the United Nations' World Health Organization visited the hospital on Monday.
“The hospital is taking on more patients than its bed capacity and staff can handle. Many will not survive the wait,” he said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
The war has destroyed and killed large parts of Gaza More than 20,600 Palestinians And almost all of the territory's 2.3 million people were displaced.
UN officials have warned that a quarter of the population is at risk of starvation under Israel's blockade of the territory.
Hamas has admitted to shooting dead a 13-year-old boy who was in a group of people trying to grab aid from a truck in southern Gaza. The shooting sparked violent protests and rare public criticism of Hamas.
The Egyptian proposal was an ambitious attempt not only to end the war, but also to lay out a plan for the next day.
It calls for an early truce of up to two weeks, during which Palestinian militants will release 40 to 50 hostages, among them women, the sick and the elderly, in exchange for the release of 120-150 Palestinians from Israeli prisons, the Egyptian official said.
At the same time, negotiations will continue on extending the ceasefire and releasing hostages and bodies held by Palestinian militants, he said. Israeli officials estimate that 20 of the hostages died or were killed in captivity.
He said Egypt and Qatar would agree to establish a government of experts with all Palestinian factions, including Hamas and a rival, the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.
He added that the government would rule Gaza and the West Bank for an interim period as Palestinian factions work toward presidential and parliamentary elections.
In the meantime, he said, Israel and Hamas would negotiate a comprehensive “all-inclusive” deal. These include the release of all remaining hostages in exchange for all Palestinian prisoners in Israel, the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Gaza, and an end to rocket fire into Israel by Palestinian militants.
According to Palestinian statistics, more than 8,000 Palestinians are detained by Israel on security-related charges or convictions. Few have been convicted of deadly attacks on Israelis. While their release remains controversial, Israel has a history of admitting false releases.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shogri spoke on the phone with Iran's top diplomat Hossein Amiraptullahian on Monday about the Gaza war, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said. Shogri discussed efforts to achieve a comprehensive ceasefire, the statement said. It did not provide further details. Iran is a major supporter of Hamas.
In Washington, the White House declined to comment on the Egyptian proposal.
U.S. officials are in close contact with Egypt and Qatar about freeing more hostages, and a number of proposals have been made, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. While the Egyptian proposal is seen as a positive sign, the US is skeptical that it will lead to a breakthrough, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
Israel's attack is the same The most destructive military campaigns in recent history. More than two-thirds of the 20,674 Palestinians killed were women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza, which did not distinguish between civilians and militants among the dead.
The attack has led to a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods.
As aid ships were limited, people tried to grab some of the goods arriving in trucks. Hamas gunmen were seen on top of some vehicles. The group says it is protecting exports while accusing Israel of stealing aid.
In the southern Gaza Strip, Hamas acknowledged that a policeman from the Hamas-run Interior Ministry shot and killed a 13-year-old boy, saying a group of people opened fire as they tried to seize aid from a truck near the town of Rafah. Sunday, an official in the Hamas government media office said Monday.
The shooting sparked violent protests and rare public criticism of Hamas, which has shown little tolerance for dissent during its rule.
Enraged relatives of the slain boy Ahmed Brigay tried to storm the police station, burning tires and demanding the policeman be held accountable.
A relative, Mossad Brighe, blamed Hamas for the killing in video comments circulated on social media, accusing the policeman of shooting the boy “directly in the head.”
He said the family had previously cooperated with Hamas to secure the border area with Egypt. He called for the policeman to be held accountable, warning that the family would prevent “any vehicle” from passing through the area.
The devastation of the war in recent weeks has brought sporadic outbursts of anger against Hamas, something unthinkable during the group's 16-year rule over Gaza.
Israel has faced international criticism for its civilian death toll. It blames Hamas, saying militants use crowded residential areas and tunnels. Israel claims to have killed thousands of Hamas fighters, without providing evidence.
Late Monday, the Israeli military said it found the stolen car belonging to the family of Israeli hostage Samir al-Talalqa at a hospital complex in northern Gaza. Al-Talalqa was one of them Three hostages were accidentally shot dead by Israeli soldiers in Gaza earlier this month.
The army said it found shrapnel in the vehicle and bloodstains from another hostage. “The discovery of the vehicle directly links the hospital to the horrific events of October 7,” it said.
Christmas in the midst of war
Dozens of members of Gaza's small Christian community held a Christmas Eve service at the Holy Family Church in Gaza City, which they also used as a shelter. Last week, Catholic officials said two Christian women were killed by Israeli sniper fire at the compound.
Kamal Ayad, whose wife and daughter were killed in the firing, said, “This is not a party. “This is a feast of pain for the Palestinian people.”
He said his only wish was “hope for peace and a ceasefire”.
The service took place late Sunday, but details emerged only on Monday due to frequent internet outages.
Bethlehem is quiet At Christmas, its holiday celebrations stopped.
Rafa, Joben from the Gaza Strip and Federman from Jerusalem reported. Associated Press writer Karim Chehayeb contributed reporting from Beirut.