Israel-Hamas ceasefire talks hit 'stalemate', Qatar says as aid agencies warn of humanitarian crisis in Rafah

Boys watch smoke billowing during Israeli strikes east of Rafah (AFP via Getty Images)
Boys watch smoke billowing during Israeli strikes east of Rafah (AFP via Getty Images)

Ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas have hit “almost a stalemate”, Qatari mediators said on Tuesday, blaming an Israeli incursion into the teeming Gazan city of Rafah.

Israel blames Hamas intransigence for blocking a new deal to swap hostages for prisoners, with the Palestinian group demanding the talks embrace a complete end to the bloody war rather a temporary truce.

Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said his government would continue its meditation role, and that Hamas’s political office in his capital Doha will remain open.

"Especially in the past few weeks, we have seen some momentum building. But unfortunately, things didn't move in the right direction and right now we are in a status of almost a stalemate,” he said at an economic forum in Doha

“Of course, what happened with Rafah sent us backward," Sheikh Mohammed added, after Israeli forces seized a border crossing point and moved into the edge of the southern city, defying Western concern about the fate of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians sheltering there.

The Qatari leader said: "There is one party that wants to end the war and then talk about the hostages and there is another party who wants the hostages and wants to continue the war. As long as there is not any commonality between those two things it won't get us to a result.”

UNRWA, the UN’s aid agency for Palestinians, said that nearly 450,000 people have been “forcibly displaced” from Rafah since May 6 after seeking shelter in the city following Israeli orders to move from their homes further north.

The agency tweeted: “People face constant exhaustion, hunger and fear. Nowhere is safe. An immediate ceasefire is the only hope.”

UNRWA and other aid agencies are warning that amid a sharp intensification of deadly Israeli bombardment further north in Gaza, the closure of the Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt is worsening an already dire humanitarian situation for Palestinians.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was opening a field hospital in southern Gaza to try to meet "overwhelming" demand for health services since Israel's operation on Rafah began last week. It said: "Doctors and nurses have been working around the clock, but their capacity has been stretched beyond its limit."

More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, say health officials in the Hamas-ruled enclave. The war began when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting 252 others, of whom 133 are believed to remain in captivity in Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.