Israeli PM to discuss possible pause in Gaza fighting amid Rafah criticism

Palestinians rescue survivors after an Israelikm strike on Shaheen family house in Rafah
Palestinians rescue survivors after an Israelikm strike on a family home in Rafah. Credit: AP

Israeli officials are to meet to discuss the next steps after the latest talks with the United States, Egypt and Qatar in search of a deal to pause the fighting in Gaza, the Israeli Prime Minister has said.

Benjamin Netanyahu also announced that he'll convene his cabinet early next week “to approve the operational plans for action in Rafah,” including the evacuation of civilians in the area, where more than half of Gaza's population are now sheltering.

Despite widespread warnings from the international community about the ground operation in the southern city, Mr Netanyahu's statement said that “only a combination of military pressure and firm negotiations” would achieve Israel's aims in the war.

A senior official from Egypt, which along with Qatar is a mediator between Israel and the Hamas militant group, said mediators were waiting for Israel's official response to a draft deal.

The deal includes the release of up to 40 women and older hostages held in Gaza in return for up to 300 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, mostly women, minors and older people.

The Egyptian official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations, said the proposed six-week pause in fighting would include allowing hundreds of aid trucks to enter Gaza every day, including the northern half of the besieged territory.

He said that both sides agreed to continue negotiations during the pause for further releases and a permanent cease-fire.

Negotiators face an unofficial deadline of the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan around March 10.

Friends and relatives of the Israeli hostages held in Gaza by the Hamas militant group attend a rally calling for their release in Tel Aviv. Credit: AP

Hamas' political official Osama Hamdan noted that the group wasn't at the talks, but asserted to reporters in Beirut on Friday that Israel had refused its main demands, including stopping the “aggression” and withdrawing from Gaza.

The Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said on Saturday that the bodies of 92 Palestinians killed in Israeli bombardments were brought to hospitals over the past 24 hours, raising the overall death toll in nearly five months of conflict to 29,606.

An Israeli airstrike hit a house in Rafah on Saturday, killing at least eight people, including four women and a child, health authorities in the area said.

An Associated Press journalist confirmed that they has seen the bodies of the victims at the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital.

The total number of wounded in Gaza has also reportedly risen to nearly 70,000 people.

The ministry's death toll doesn't distinguish between civilians and combatants, but it has said that two-thirds of those killed were children and women.

Israel says its troops have killed more than 10,000 Hamas fighters, but hasn't provided more details.

Palestinian children receive food in Rafah, Gaza Strip. Credit: AP

It comes as Brazil’s president alleged on Saturday that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian people.

“What the Israeli government is doing is not war, it is genocide,” Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Children and women are being murdered.”

Israel has pushed back against genocide claims made at the UN’s top court and elsewhere, saying its war targets the militant group Hamas, not the Palestinian people.

It has held Hamas responsible for civilian deaths, arguing that the group operates from civilian areas.

It is not the first time President Lula has angered the Israeli government. Last week he compared Israel’s military offensive in Gaza to the Nazi Holocaust, in which six million Jews and others were killed during World War Two.

In response to Lula’s initial comments, Israel declared him a persona non grata, summoned Brazil’s ambassador and demanded an apology. Lula recalled Brazil’s ambassador to Israel for consultations.

Last month, South Africa filed a landmark case with the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians.

The court issued a preliminary order ordering Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza. While, Israel accused South Africa of "hypocrisy".

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...