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Hamas considering latest Gaza truce offer in ‘positive spirit’

– Hamas says it is considering in a “positive spirit” a Gaza truce deal, while the UN warned rebuilding the devastated Palestinian territory would require efforts not seen since World War II.

After months of stop-start negotiations, Hamas has sounded an optimistic tone about the latest hostages-for-ceasefire proposal, raising hopes an agreement may soon be reached — even as medics in the besieged strip reported fresh strikes on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah on Friday.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said the group will “soon” send a delegation to Egypt to complete ongoing ceasefire discussions with a deal that “realises the demands of our people”.

Haniyeh, the leader of the militant group’s political wing, told Egyptian and Qatari mediators in calls on Thursday that Hamas was studying the latest proposal from Israel with a “positive spirit”.

The stakes of the truce talks were thrown into sharp relief Thursday, when a UN report estimated it could take 80 years to reconstruct all the homes flattened over the course of the nearly seven-month war.

“The scale of the destruction is huge and unprecedented… this is a mission that the global community has not dealt with since World War II,” Abdallah al-Dardari, the UNDP’s Regional Director for Arab States told a briefing in Jordan.

The UNDP assessment forecast the socioeconomic toll inflicted will cost generations of Palestinians to come and called for an urgent ceasefire.

– ‘Suffering’ –

The only truce mediators have been able to hammer out so far was a week-long deal in November, that saw the release of 105 hostages for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Israel estimates that 129 captives seized by the militants during their October 7 attack remain in Gaza.

The military says 35 of them are dead, including 49-year-old Dror Or.

The government confirmed Or’s death early Friday. Two of his children were among the hostages released during the November truce.

Hamas and Israel have been at loggerheads for months over the terms of any new deal. 

The militant group has demanded a permanent ceasefire to end the war and the withdrawal of troops, which Israel has refused.

While Israel faces regular protests demanding the government bring home remaining captives, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to fight on.

With or without a truce, he has said he will send ground troops into Rafah, despite global concerns over the fate of around 1.5 million civilians sheltering there.

The truce offer under consideration includes a 40-day halt to fighting and the exchange of Israeli hostages for potentially thousands of Palestinian prisoners, according to details released by Britain.

During his latest whirlwind visit to the Middle East, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the Palestinian group to accept what he termed an “extraordinarily generous” deal on the part of Israel.

“If Hamas actually purports to care about the Palestinian people and wants to see an immediate alleviation of their suffering, it will take the deal,” Blinken told reporters Wednesday.

Until Haniyeh’s comments, Gaza-rulers Hamas had indicated a generally negative reception of the proposed truce. 

The war started with Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 34,596 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

UNDP estimated that as of April 12, at least five percent of Gaza’s population had been killed or injured.

“The suffering in Gaza will not end when the war does,” UNDP chief Achim Steiner said.

“Unprecedented levels of human losses, capital destruction, and the steep rise in poverty in such a short period of time will precipitate a serious development crisis,” he added.

– ‘Mouths left hungry’ –

The humanitarian crisis and rising death toll in Gaza have prompted demonstrations around the world, including in universities in the United States, Canada and France.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog slammed the protests, charging that the US universities had been “contaminated by hatred and anti-Semitism”.

Colombia severed diplomatic ties with Israel on Wednesday, while Turkey on Thursday announced it was suspending trade. 

Gaza’s 2.4 million inhabitants are threatened by famine, but international aid has only been able to trickle in. 

Under US pressure, Israel has allowed increased aid deliveries in recent days, including through a reopened border crossing.

At south Gaza’s largest hospital, the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Yunis, which was heavily damaged by fighting in February, foreign aid and borrowed equipment has helped to “almost completely” restore the emergency department, its director Atef al-Hout said.

US charity World Central Kitchen resumed delivering food to starving Gazans this week, after it had suspended operations following an Israeli strike in April that killed seven of its staffers.

“We realised after the kitchen closed that many mouths were left hungry,” kitchen manager Zakria Yahya Abukuwaik said, while preparing food in Rafah.

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