Tens of thousands of Israelis rallied late into the night calling for a deal to bring hostages home, ahead of further ceasefire talks.

Protesters in Tel Aviv chanted “war is not holy, life is”, with some accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of aiming to prolong the conflict.

It came as a Hamas delegation met mediators in Egypt on Saturday.

The group said there were no new developments, but added “a new round will begin” on Sunday.

Negotiators have resumed long-running negotiations in Cairo – brokered by Egypt and Qatar – on pausing Israel’s offensive in Gaza in return for freeing hostages.

The main sticking point appears to be whether the deal would be temporary or permanent.

It is thought the wording being discussed involves a 40-day pause in fighting while hostages are released, and the release of a number of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.

An adviser to the Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said the group was looking at the latest proposal with “full seriousness”.

But he repeated a demand that any deal would have to explicitly include an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and complete end to the war.

An anonymous Israeli government official told local media on Saturday that Israel would “under no circumstances agree to end the war as part of an agreement to free our abductees”.

They added: “The IDF will enter Rafah and destroy the remaining Hamas battalions there – whether there is a temporary pause to free our captives or not.”

Mr Netanyahu has faced pressure from within his far-right coalition to press ahead with the long-promised offensive in Gaza’s southern-most city, where an estimated 1.4 million people have taken shelter after fleeing fighting in northern and central parts of the strip.

The US – Israel’s biggest diplomatic and military ally – is reluctant to back a new offensive that could cause significant civilian casualties, and has insisted on seeing a plan to protect displaced Palestinians first.

May 5, 2024

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