Truce Talks Drag as Hamas Hits Israel Crossing in Deadly Attack

(Bloomberg) -- Israel closed the Kerem Shalom humanitarian crossing into Gaza on Sunday after a rocket barrage was fired by Hamas, as weekend talks on a potential truce broke up inconclusively.

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The status of the talks was unclear after the latest round in Cairo: Hamas officials said their negotiators had returned to Qatar to consult with the group’s political leadership. CIA Director William Burns was also leaving Cairo for consultations in Qatar, Reuters reported.

Israel and Hamas have been negotiating for weeks through mediators toward a potential truce that would include the release of hostages held in Gaza and of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. At the same time, Israel has threatened to launch an operation in Rafah, where it says Hamas battalions remain intact, and where hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians are sheltering.

President Joe Biden is scheduled to have lunch at the White House on Monday with King Abdullah II of Jordan, underscoring the broader desire to contain the nearly seven-month conflict.

On the ground, the Israeli army said about 10 projectiles were fired at Kerem Shalom, a corridor for humanitarian aid transfers that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited last week. Israel has been criticized for not allowing enough aid into the Gaza Strip, where US officials say a famine is deepening.

Hamas’ military wing claimed responsibility for the attack. Three Israeli soldiers were killed in the barrage and three others were seriously injured, the military reported. Israel says it isn’t restricting aid into Gaza.

The attack came hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is prepared to temporarily halt the war in Gaza to gain the release of the hostages held there, but won’t agree to the Hamas demand to end the war completely. Israel’s defense minister warned that its forces continue to prepare for a potential assault on Rafah in southern Gaza.

Netanyahu’s cabinet on Sunday also approved a decision to shut down Al Jazeera’s broadcasts out of Israel under a recently-passed law, drawing condemnation from the Qatar-based network and the Foreign Press Association.

Read more: Netanyahu’s Cabinet Votes to Shut Al Jazeera’s Israel Operations

Netanyahu doubled down on his position on Sunday.

“We are not ready to accept a situation in which the Hamas battalions come out of their bunkers, take control of Gaza again, rebuild their military infrastructure, and return to threatening the citizens of Israel in the surrounding settlements, in the cities of the south, in all parts of the country,” Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday. Hamas, not Israel, is preventing a deal, he added.

Giving in to Hamas’ demands would be a “terrible defeat” for Israel, a huge victory for Hamas and Iran, and would project a “terrible weakness” to Israel’s friends and enemies alike, Netanyahu said.

This weakness would distance any further peace agreement, Netanyahu said, in an apparent reference to potential normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia.

Read more: US-Saudi Defense Pact Not Possible Without Israel Deal, FT Says

Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the group, which is considered a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, brought “seriousness and positivity” to the current talks.

Netanyahu, he said, wanted to “invent constant justifications for the continuation of aggression, expanding the circle of conflict, and sabotaging efforts made through various mediators and parties.”

Hamas is still keen to reach a comprehensive agreement that guarantees the withdrawal of Israel forces and achieves a serious exchange deal of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners, Haniyeh added.

In response, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said he sees indications that Hamas doesn’t want a deal, which would open the door to “intense” military activity in Rafah.

“IDF forces are ready for a powerful operation all over Gaza and especially in the Rafah area,” he said in a post on X.

Earlier on Sunday, an air strike blamed by Lebanon on Israel killed four civilians and wounded two others in a village in south Lebanon, prompting Hezbollah to fire rockets back across the border.

Israeli warplanes targeted Mays al-Jabal, causing “massive destruction,” Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported. Theres was no comment from Israel.

Tens of thousands of Israelis and Lebanese have fled their homes near the borders due to cross-border fighting. That erupted around the time Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and triggering the war in Gaza that’s destroyed much of the enclave and killed more than 34,000 Palestinians. More than 100 Israelis captured by Hamas are still being held in Gaza, although it’s unclear how many are still alive.

(Updates with Biden-Abdullah meeting in third paragraph, Israel says soldiers killed in Hamas attack in sixth.)

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