Hamas says it is reviewing Israel's ceasefire proposal for Gaza

Hamas said on Saturday it is reviewing a new Israeli proposal for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, a move that comes amid efforts to break the deadlock in talks between the armed group and Israel.

The statement came as anticipation grew of an Israeli invasion of Rafah, a city in southern Gaza where more than a million people have been displaced. Humanitarian groups have warned that such an offensive would have catastrophic consequences for civilians.

In a statement, Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, said the group had received an Israeli response to a proposal delivered to Egyptian and Qatari mediators two weeks ago. Al-Hayya did not provide any details included in the Israeli proposal, but said Hamas would respond after the group finished studying it.

On Friday, a delegation of Egyptian officials visited Israel in an effort to advance negotiations between Israel and Hamas, according to an Israeli official familiar with the visit, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to communicate with the media.

In recent weeks, negotiations aimed at reaching a ceasefire and the release of hostages held in Gaza have stalled amid disputes over the withdrawal of Israeli forces and how long the fighting will remain suspended. Hamas has called for a permanent ceasefire, while Israel has expressed availability for a temporary pause.

Another sticking point is whether Israel will allow displaced Palestinians to return to the north. Hamas officials have said Palestinians should be allowed to return en masse, while Israeli officials have said Israel wants to place limits on who can return, where and how.

The impasse has left Palestinians in Gaza to continue to suffer from Israel's pulverizer bombing campaign, which has caused destruction across the territory and left more than 34,000 dead, according to Gaza's Health Ministry. The ministry's figures do not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

It has also prevented Israeli hostages from being reunited with their families, many of whom have become increasingly critical of the Israeli government's failure to secure the freedom of their loved ones.

Calls for ceasefire talks have become urgent as Israel signals it may proceed with the invasion of Rafah. Earlier this week, an Israeli military officer said that if Israel were to begin an invasion of Rafah, an Israeli-designated “humanitarian zone” along the coast would be expanded to accommodate more civilians. He spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The comments were among the first hints of the Israeli army's plans for civilians should it want to launch a major ground offensive in the area.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is expected to travel to Israel next week, a trip that comes as the United States has urged Israel not to undertake a major military operation in Rafah.

Israeli officials have repeatedly said that entering Rafah was necessary to fight Hamas battalions, but Israel's allies have expressed grave concerns about what an invasion would mean for people who have crowded into the city, many of whom are living in makeshift tents in large camps. .

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