NEW YORK, Feb 27 — US President Joe Biden said yesterday he hoped a ceasefire in Gaza could start by the beginning of next week.

Amid a spiraling humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territory, representatives from Egypt, Qatar, the United States, France and elsewhere have acted as go-betweens for Israel and Hamas, seeking a halt to the fighting and the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

A deal could also include the exchange of dozens of hostages for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.

Biden was asked during a visit to New York when such an agreement might start, and answered, “My national security advisor tells me that we’re close, we’re close, we’re not done yet.”

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“My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire,” Biden added.

Representatives from several parties, not including Gaza rulers Hamas, met in Paris over the weekend and “came to an understanding... about what the basic contours of a hostage deal for temporary ceasefire would look like,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN Sunday.

And after the Paris meeting, Egyptian, Qatari and US “experts” met in Doha in recent days for talks also attended by Israeli and Hamas representatives, state-linked Egyptian media said, hoping to secure a truce before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

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A Hamas source told AFP that “some new amendments” were proposed on contentious issues, but “Israel did not present any substantive position on the terms of the ceasefire and the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.”

Talks to continue

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed the troop withdrawal demand as “delusional,” and said that any ceasefire deal would only delay a military incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where around 1.4 million Palestinians have sought shelter from fighting elsewhere in Gaza.

Yesterday, an unnamed Israeli official told news site Ynet the “direction (of the talks) is positive,” and Israeli media reported that military and intelligence officials were headed to Qatar for further talks on a deal.

And Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani — whose country hosts Hamas leaders and helped broker a one-week truce in November — is due in Paris this week, the French presidency said.

Sheikh Tamim has met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Doha and discussed efforts “aimed at reaching an immediate and permanent ceasefire agreement” in Gaza, the official Qatar News Agency said.

Israel’s military campaign has killed at least 29,782 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the ministry.

The war broke out after Hamas launched their unprecedented attack which killed 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel. — AFP