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Israeli Cabinet Convenes to Discuss Looming Hostage Release Deal

A person stands in front of a montage of images of hostages seized by Hamas during a demonstration in Tel Aviv demanding their release. Photo: Reuters/Amir Cohen

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the Hamas terrorist organization, said on Tuesday that a truce with Israel was close while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced hope for good news regarding the more than 240 hostages seized during the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom, the most optimistic signs so far of a deal to pause the devastating war in Gaza and free captives.

As negotiations appeared to be nearing agreement, however, the fighting on the ground raged on, with Israel saying its forces had encircled the Jabalia refugee camp, a major urban flashpoint and Hamas terrorist stronghold.

The Palestinian news agency said 33 people were killed and dozens wounded in an Israeli air strike on part of Jabalia, a congested urban extension of Gaza City where Hamas terrorists have been battling advancing Israeli armored forces.

In southern Gaza, Hamas-affiliated media said 10 people were killed and 22 injured by an Israeli air strike on an apartment in the city of Khan Younis.

If a deal on hostages transpires, it would be the first pause in hostilities and the first mass release of people held by both sides in a six-week-old war that has raised fears of wider conflict in the Middle East.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement sent to Reuters by his aide that group officials were “close to reaching a truce agreement” with Israel and the group had delivered its latest response to Qatari mediators.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, according to remarks released by his office: “We are making progress. I don’t think it’s worth saying too much, not at even this moment, but I hope there will be good news soon.”

US President Joe Biden told reporters that an accord to release some of the more than 200 hostages held by Hamas was very near. “My team is in the region shuttling between capitals. We’re now very close, very close, to bringing some of these hostages home very soon,” he said.

Shortly afterwards, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said a hostage deal was close but not final.

Netanyahu summoned his war cabinet amid growing signs of a deal to free a number of the 240 hostages taken by Hamas militants to Gaza after their deadly cross-border raid into Israel on Oct. 7, which triggered the war.

A US official briefed on the discussions facilitated by Qatar said Hamas would free about 50 hostages, mostly women and children and including some foreigners, while Israel frees 150 Palestinian prisoners, with fighting paused for four to five days.

Israeli media outlets said later the government had convened to discuss approval of a deal, including a clause that would allow the Red Cross access to those hostages who remain in Gaza, including supplying them with their medical needs.

A Hamas official told the Qatari-controlled broadcaster Al Jazeera that negotiations were centered on how long the truce would last, arrangements for delivery of aid into Gaza and details of the exchange of captives. Both sides would free women and children, and details would be announced by Qatar, which is mediating in the negotiations, said the official, Issat el Reshiq.

Israel’s chief military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said the army was focused on fighting and the deal with Hamas, if clinched, would not affect its gains in Gaza, where Israel says it now controls much of the north.

“The military will know how to maintain its military achievements in Gaza while preparing for the next stages of the war,” Hagari told a televised briefing on Tuesday evening.

He said Israeli forces had continued operations through the day in Gaza and completed an encirclement of Jabalia, “which is a significant combat area”, adding that troops had also “deepened combat” in the nearby Zeitoun district of Gaza City.

Hamas’ Oct. 7 rampage into Israeli communities near Gaza killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies, the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year-old history.

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Kyiv Rejects Putin’s ‘Absurd Ultimatum’ to End War

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Photo: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

i24 NewsRussia’s strongman President Vladimir Putin said he would end the war in Ukraine only if Kyiv agreed to drop its NATO ambitions and hand over the entirety of four provinces claimed by Moscow. Kyiv swiftly rejected the demands as tantamount to surrender.

Putin demands that Ukraine transfers to Russia four regions, including a 300,000 city of Kherson and 700,000 Zaporizhzhya as a “precondition” to “peace talks”. This man is delusional, and those in the West who speak of “negotiations” or “cease fire” are enemies of the free world.

— Sergej Sumlenny, LL.M (@sumlenny) June 14, 2024

“The conditions are very simple,” Putin said, listing them as the full withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the entire territory of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Putin’s maximalist conditions apparently reflect Moscow’s growing confidence that its forces have the upper hand in the war.

He restated his demand for Ukraine’s demilitarization and said an end to Western sanctions must also be part of a peace deal. He also repeated his call for Ukraine’s “denazification.”

“He is offering for Ukraine to admit defeat. He is offering for Ukraine to legally give up its territories to Russia. He is offering for Ukraine to sign away its geopolitical sovereignty,” said Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, rejecting the demands as “absurd.”

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Deadly Explosion Kills 8 IDF Soldiers in Rafah

Illustrative. Some rises after an Israeli strike as Israeli forces launch a ground and air operation in the eastern part of Rafah, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 7, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Hatem Khaled

i24 NewsEarly this morning, tragedy struck in the southern Gaza city of Rafah as eight Israeli soldiers lost their lives in a devastating explosion, marking the deadliest incident for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the region since January.

The IDF has confirmed the casualties, with one soldier identified as Captain Wassem Mahmoud, 23, a deputy company commander from Beit Jann in the Combat Engineering Corps’ 601st Battalion.

The names of the other seven soldiers will be released after their families have been notified.

According to initial reports from the IDF, the soldiers were traveling in a Namer armored combat engineering vehicle (CEV) as part of a convoy around 5 a.m., following a successful overnight operation targeting Hamas militants in the Tel Sultan neighborhood of Rafah. During the operation, troops under the 401st Armored Brigade reportedly neutralized approximately 50 gunmen.

The convoy was en route to buildings captured by the army for the soldiers to rest, when the Namer CEV, which was the fifth or sixth vehicle in the convoy, was struck by a powerful explosion. The nature of the explosion remains under investigation, with possibilities ranging from a pre-planted bomb to an improvised device placed on the vehicle by Hamas operatives.

Initial findings suggest that explosives stored on the exterior of the Namer CEV may have contributed to the severity of the blast. Normally, such explosives are designed to minimize harm to troops inside if detonated.

The IDF probe indicates there was no gunfire preceding the explosion, and the vehicle was not stationary at the time of the incident. The circumstances surrounding the tragedy have prompted intensified scrutiny into the safety protocols and operational procedures during military movements in hostile territories.

The deaths of these eight soldiers bring the total number of IDF casualties in recent ground operations against Hamas to 307. This figure includes a police officer killed during a recent hostage rescue operation and a civilian Defense Ministry contractor also slain in the conflict.

This is a developing story 

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U.S. Officials Fear Escalating Conflict Between Israel and Hezbollah

Israeli firefighters work following rocket attacks from Lebanon, amid ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, near the border on its Israeli side, June 13, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Avi Ohayon

i24 NewsRecent actions by both Israel and Hezbollah have sparked growing concerns among U.S. officials, who fear that the situation could escalate into a full-scale war, according to reports from CBS News.

The tension has intensified following a series of Israeli airstrikes on Lebanese territory, which some American authorities believe are laying the groundwork for a larger military operation.

Sources within the US government have expressed worries that such a move could trigger a conflict that might strain Israel’s alliance with Washington.

Hezbollah, in response to recent events including the assassination of senior commander Taleb Sami Abdullah, has escalated its own actions. The group has begun launching daily rocket attacks targeting northern Israeli communities since October 8, citing solidarity with Hamas amidst the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

US officials cited by CBS News have highlighted concerns over the potential unintended consequences of Hezbollah’s increased attacks. They fear that these actions could provoke Israel into launching a significant military assault, further exacerbating the volatile situation in the region.

The developments come amid ongoing international efforts to de-escalate tensions and prevent a wider conflict. Diplomatic channels remain active, with calls for restraint and dialogue from various quarters.

The United States, a key ally of Israel, has historically played a crucial role in mediating and influencing regional conflicts. Officials are closely monitoring the situation, emphasizing the importance of avoiding actions that could escalate tensions further.

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