Iran's FM Arrives in Damascus, Invites Assad to Visit Tehran

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian at a press conference in Damascus (AFP)
Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian at a press conference in Damascus (AFP)
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Iran's FM Arrives in Damascus, Invites Assad to Visit Tehran

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian at a press conference in Damascus (AFP)
Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian at a press conference in Damascus (AFP)

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian handed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad an invitation from Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to visit Iran.

Amirabdollahian arrived Sunday in Syria and discussed the latest regional and international developments with Assad.

The FM condemned the Israeli attack that targeted military advisors in Syria.

Since the beginning of 2024, Israel launched over ten attacks against Iranian militias' sites within Syria, killing about 31 soldiers and injuring nine others, including six from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), six from the Lebanese Hezbollah, and three Iraqis.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the attacks destroyed about 27 targets, including weapons and ammunition depots, headquarters, centers, and vehicles.

On Saturday, ahead of Amirabdollahian's visit to Damascus coming from Beirut, Israel bombed al-Dimas Airport, west of Damascus, targeting the Syrian military infrastructure.

Deputy head of the Russian Center for Reconciliation Vadim Collet explained that the Israeli warplanes launched their attack from outside Syrian airspace, according to Russia Today.

The Syrian FM Faisal Mekdad met with Amirabdollahian for bilateral talks.

Iran's top diplomat condemned the US "illegal presence" on Syrian territory and said that he discussed with President Assad the latest regional and international developments.

The Syrian President affirmed that the US stance towards the ongoing Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip threatens the expansion of conflict by continuing to provide the Zionist entity with lethal weapons and Washington's aggressions.

Assad said: "The Zionist entity and the West are in trouble today, and the West is now required to save that entity, and Israel's escalation in Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon is nothing but an attempt to get out of this trouble."

The President criticized the relevant international institutions, especially the Security Council, for their inability to stop Israel's massacres against the Palestinian people.

Israel is preparing to complete commiting crimes in Rafah, said Assad.

Amirabdollahian, in turn, said that Gaza is now the main issue not only at the regional level but also at the international level, noting that Syria is on the front lines in supporting the Palestinian people and their cause.

Ahead of his visit to Syria, the Iranian FM was in Beirut, where he met with Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, Secretary-General of the Islamic Jihad Movement Ziad al-Nakhalah, Hamas official Osama Hamdan, and Deputy Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Jamil Mezher.

"The region is moving toward stability, security, and political solutions," Amirabdollahian said in a news conference at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.

Media reports stated that decision-makers in Tehran are considering the next steps regarding the escalation of US and Israeli attacks against its forces in Syria and Iraq.

According to reports, the military tends toward responding to the assassinations, while the diplomatic channels believe it is crucial to maintain restraint and avoid escalation to keep matters under control. They seek to exploit the regional developments for the benefit of Iranian diplomacy.



Syrian Army Says Downs 7 Drones Around Hama, Idlib

A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
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Syrian Army Says Downs 7 Drones Around Hama, Idlib

A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI

Syrian armed forces shot down seven drones aimed at military positions and villages in the countryside of Hama and Idlib, Syrian state media said on Sunday, citing the defense ministry.

The ministry said the drones had been launched by "terrorists", state media reported.


Washington Accuses Sudanese Army of Blocking Aid Along Chad Border

Relief aid comes from the city of Gedaref in eastern Sudan on February 22. (AFP)
Relief aid comes from the city of Gedaref in eastern Sudan on February 22. (AFP)
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Washington Accuses Sudanese Army of Blocking Aid Along Chad Border

Relief aid comes from the city of Gedaref in eastern Sudan on February 22. (AFP)
Relief aid comes from the city of Gedaref in eastern Sudan on February 22. (AFP)

Sudan on Saturday denounced a statement by the US State Department accusing the Sudanese authorities of obstructing people's access to humanitarian aid in the areas under the Rapid Support Forces' control.

In a statement, Sudan's Foreign Ministry said the US allegations against the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Government of Sudan relating to humanitarian aid and civilian activities are "false accusations."

It reiterated the Sudanese government's commitment to the Jeddah Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians, signed on May 11, 2023.

The ministry added that the US statement avoided issuing an explicit, clear, and exclusive condemnation of the RSF.

"The United States is deeply concerned by the Sudanese Armed Forces' (SAF) recent decision to prohibit cross-border humanitarian assistance from Chad and reports that the SAF is obstructing assistance from reaching communities in areas controlled by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF)," said the US State Department.

“We are also concerned that the RSF are looting homes, markets, and humanitarian assistance warehouses in areas under their control.”

- Commitment to the Jeddah Declaration

“We remind the SAF and RSF of their obligations under international humanitarian law, as well as their commitments in the Jeddah Declaration to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian deliveries to meet the needs of civilians,” the statement added.

“In addition, the United States strongly condemns actions by the SAF and RSF, as well as some civilian officials, to constrain civic space, restrict access to internet and mobile phone networks, stoke interethnic conflict, and criminalize groups providing support for communities harmed by conflict.”

It added that “hate speech, including vilification of individuals who call for stopping the fighting, has surged. We have seen the targeting of Resistance Committees, pro-peace activists, community leaders, humanitarian actors, medical personnel, journalists, and political party members.”

"We unequivocally condemn these acts, as well as pervasive rape, torture, and other reprehensible violations against Sudanese civilians."


Significant Progress in Gaza Ceasefire Talks Based on ‘Gradual Deal’

An Israeli woman participates in a march demanding the expedited release of hostages held by Hamas in Tel Aviv on Friday (Reuters)
An Israeli woman participates in a march demanding the expedited release of hostages held by Hamas in Tel Aviv on Friday (Reuters)
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Significant Progress in Gaza Ceasefire Talks Based on ‘Gradual Deal’

An Israeli woman participates in a march demanding the expedited release of hostages held by Hamas in Tel Aviv on Friday (Reuters)
An Israeli woman participates in a march demanding the expedited release of hostages held by Hamas in Tel Aviv on Friday (Reuters)

Talks on prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas, set to continue in the coming days in Paris, have witnessed proposed plans for a phased deal, delaying disputed issues till later, insider sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Mediators received positive signals, indicating that Hamas is open to postponing tough decisions to later stages, the sources affirmed.

The newly proposed framework includes a six-week pause in the conflict and the release of between 200 and 300 Palestinians from Israeli prisons in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages still held by Hamas.

“Efforts are on for a gradual comprehensive deal, with the first phase expected before Ramadan. Talks for the second and third phases will address complex issues like prisoner numbers and Israeli army withdrawal,” sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Hamas is flexible but firm on its demands,” they noted, adding that the Palestinian group “insists on residents returning to the north in the second phase and discussing an end to the war in the third, which must include an agreement on prisoner releases.”

Sources reveal Hamas’ flexibility aims to secure a deal before Ramadan, averting a Rafah incursion and countering Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s argument against a full ceasefire due to his government’s extremist elements.

The approach focuses on ending the conflict gradually, not all at once.

Adaptability shown by Hamas has paved the way for genuine talks and a proposed new framework.

Israeli officials, speaking to local media, praised the Paris talks for their progress, surpassing expectations.

The Paris discussions involved CIA Director William Burns, Qatari PM Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, and Israeli Mossad chief David Barnea.

The head of Egyptian intelligence arrived in Paris after meeting with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Cairo recently.

Haniyeh stated that Hamas has been cooperating positively with mediators to stop the attacks, lift the blockade, allow aid, shelter, and reconstruction.

Negotiations are currently focused on four key Hamas demands that Israel opposes: the return of northern Gaza residents, withdrawal of Israeli forces, ceasefire terms, and the number of prisoners to be released.

Israeli reports suggest flexibility on aid and ceasefire duration but disagreement on ending the war.


Observatory: ISIS Killed Over 100 in Syria Since Start of Year

ISIS continues its attacks despite its defeat in 2013. (AFP)
ISIS continues its attacks despite its defeat in 2013. (AFP)
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Observatory: ISIS Killed Over 100 in Syria Since Start of Year

ISIS continues its attacks despite its defeat in 2013. (AFP)
ISIS continues its attacks despite its defeat in 2013. (AFP)

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that more than 100 civilians and military were killed in 50 operations on Syrian territories since the beginning of 2024, despite the “definitive defeat of the organization and the cessation of its control over extensive swathes of Syrian territory."

Since the start of the year, ISIS cells have executed 50 separate operations in the desert, including ambushes, armed assaults, and bombings in areas like the western Euphrates, Deir Ezzor, Raqqa, and Homs.

SOHR added that the death toll from these military activities in the Syrian desert has risen to 133 since the beginning of 2024. This toll includes 17 fatalities attributed to ISIS and 101 to regime forces and militias. Additionally, five civilians lost their lives while gathering truffles, and ten individuals, including a child, fell victim to ISIS attacks in the Syrian desert.

According to statistics from the Observatory, operations were delineated into various regions: 16 in the Deir Ezzor desert, resulting in the deaths of 27 soldiers, including seven from pro-Iran militias, two from the organization, and two truffle hunters. In the Homs desert, 27 operations led to the deaths of 50 soldiers, including three from pro-Iran militias and 12 from the organization, along with six civilians.

Additionally, three operations in the Raqqa desert resulted in 11 soldier fatalities, including three from the organization, while three operations in the Hama desert led to 10 soldier deaths and seven civilian casualties, including a child.

Furthermore, one operation in the Aleppo desert resulted in the deaths of three pro-Iranian militia members.


Yemeni Gov’t Pleads for Global Help to Prevent ‘Rubymar’ Ship Disaster

 An aerial image of the British ship, Rubymar, at risk of sinking due to Houthi missile bombardment (AFP)
An aerial image of the British ship, Rubymar, at risk of sinking due to Houthi missile bombardment (AFP)
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Yemeni Gov’t Pleads for Global Help to Prevent ‘Rubymar’ Ship Disaster

 An aerial image of the British ship, Rubymar, at risk of sinking due to Houthi missile bombardment (AFP)
An aerial image of the British ship, Rubymar, at risk of sinking due to Houthi missile bombardment (AFP)

The Yemeni government is seeking international help to prevent a disaster after a Houthi missile struck the UK-registered Rubymar, a cargo ship carrying fertilizer and dangerous goods in the Red Sea last week.

This plea comes as Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden have increased since November. The Iran-backed group says they’re targeting vessels linked to Israel, and have recently hit US and British ships.

The US continues to launch frequent strikes against Houthi positions and intercept their attacks using drones, missiles, and boats.

EU ships stand ready to join French destroyers in the Red Sea to counter Houthi assaults, while China has sent a war fleet amid concerns for millions of Yemenis reliant on international aid.

Since Nov. 19, Houthis have stepped up attacks on ships in the Red Sea. Their leader claims 48 assaults, damaging at least 11 ships.

The Yemeni government’s plea for help comes as a US warning highlights the risk of an environmental disaster if the Rubymar, leaking fuel and taking on water, were to sink.

Yemen’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak has formed an emergency committee to tackle the crisis involving the hit ship.

The ship, flagged under Belize, was attacked by the Houthis last Sunday. It was loaded with ammonia, oils, and dangerous substances, posing a serious threat to marine life.

The Yemeni government urged countries and organizations concerned with marine environments to assist in preventing a potential environmental disaster and to act swiftly on the potential crisis.

In an official statement, the government condemned the Houthi attack, which caused significant damage and forced the crew to evacuate.

The drifting ship is reportedly heading towards Yemen’s Hanish Islands in the Red Sea, raising fears of a major environmental catastrophe.


Israel Discusses Next Steps in Truce Talks as Gaza Desperation Deepens

Destruction in Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikes (AP)
Destruction in Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikes (AP)
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Israel Discusses Next Steps in Truce Talks as Gaza Desperation Deepens

Destruction in Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikes (AP)
Destruction in Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikes (AP)

Israel's war cabinet has discussed the next steps for negotiations towards a hostage deal and ceasefire in its war with Hamas, as concern deepens over the increasingly desperate situation faced by civilians in the devastated Gaza Strip.

An Israeli delegation that had travelled to Paris for fresh talks on a hostage deal returned to brief the country's war cabinet on Saturday night, according to an official and local media reports.

National security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a televised interview shortly before the meeting that the "delegation has returned from Paris -- there is probably room to move towards an agreement".

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the meeting would discuss the "next steps in the negotiations".

Local media later reported that the meeting had concluded with the cabinet agreeing to send a delegation to Qatar in the coming days to continue the talks, AFP reported.

As with a previous week-long truce in November that saw more than 100 hostages freed, Qatar, Egypt and the United States have been spearheading efforts to secure a deal.

Domestic pressure on the government to bring the captives home has also steadily mounted, with thousands gathering in Tel Aviv Saturday night at what has come to be known as "Hostages Square" to demand swifter action.

Anti-government protesters were also out in Tel Aviv, blocking streets and calling for Netanyahu's government to step down as authorities deployed water cannon and mounted officers in a bid to disperse them.

"They are not choosing the right path for us. Whether it's (the) economy, whether it's peace with our neighbours," 54-year-old software company CEO Moti Kushner said of the government, adding "it looks like they never want to end the war".

After more than four months of shortages inside the besieged Gaza Strip, the World Food Program said this week its teams had reported "unprecedented levels of desperation", while the United Nations warned that 2.2 million people were on the brink of famine.

In northern Gaza's Jabalia refugee camp, bedraggled children held out plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food was available.

Supplies are running out, with aid agencies unable to get into the area because of the bombing, while the trucks that do try to get through face frenzied looting.

"We the grown-ups can still make it, but these children who are four and five years old, what did they do wrong to sleep hungry and wake up hungry?" one man said angrily.

Residents have resorted to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves.

The health ministry said on Saturday that a two-month-old baby identified as Mahmud Fatuh had died of "malnutrition" in Gaza City.

Save the Children said the risk of famine would continue to "increase as long as the government of Israel continues to impede the entry of aid into Gaza".

Israel has defended its track record on allowing aid into Gaza, saying that 13,000 trucks carrying relief supplies had entered the territory since the start of the war.

The war began after Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack. Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 29,606 people, mostly women and children, according to a Saturday tally from Gaza's health ministry.

The ministry said early Sunday that another 98 people had been killed overnight, with the Hamas media office reporting strikes along the length of the territory, from Beit Lahia in the north to Rafah in the south.

An AFP reporter said there had been a number of air strikes on Saturday evening in Rafah, a city along the territory's southern border with Egypt where hundreds of thousands of Gazans have fled to escape fighting elsewhere.

The presence of so many civilians packed into the area has sparked concerns over Israeli plans for troops to finally push into the city, the last major urban center they have yet to enter.

Despite the concerns, including from key ally the United States, Netanyahu signalled Saturday night that the expected push had not been abandoned, adding that "at the beginning of the week, I will convene the cabinet to approve the operational plans for action in Rafah, including the evacuation of the civilian population from there".

"Only a combination of military pressure and firm negotiations will lead to the release of our hostages, the elimination of Hamas and the achievement of all the war's goals," he added.

Netanyahu this week unveiled a plan for post-war Gaza that envisages civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.

It also says Israel will continue with the establishment of a security buffer zone inside Gaza along the territory's border.

The plan has been rejected by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and drawn criticism from Washington.


US, UK Launch New Wave of Strikes Against Yemen's Houthis

Apart from the joint operations with Britain, the United States has also carried out unilateral strikes against Houthi positions and weaponry in Yemen - Reuters
Apart from the joint operations with Britain, the United States has also carried out unilateral strikes against Houthi positions and weaponry in Yemen - Reuters
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US, UK Launch New Wave of Strikes Against Yemen's Houthis

Apart from the joint operations with Britain, the United States has also carried out unilateral strikes against Houthi positions and weaponry in Yemen - Reuters
Apart from the joint operations with Britain, the United States has also carried out unilateral strikes against Houthi positions and weaponry in Yemen - Reuters

US and British forces carried out a fresh wave of strikes Saturday against 18 Houthi targets in Yemen, following weeks of unrelenting attacks on Red Sea shipping by the Iran-backed group.

The strikes "specifically targeted 18 Houthi targets across eight locations in Yemen" including weapons storage facilities, attack drones, air defense systems, radars and a helicopter, a joint statement said.

It was co-signed by Australia, Bahrain, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand, who gave unspecified "support" to the new round of strikes, the second this month and fourth since the rebels began their attacks on ships in the region.

"The Houthis' now more than 45 attacks on commercial and naval vessels since mid-November constitute a threat to the global economy, as well as regional security and stability, and demand an international response," the statement said.

"The United States will not hesitate to take action, as needed, to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world's most critical waterways," Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said in a separate statement after the strikes.

"We will continue to make clear to the Houthis that they will bear the consequences if they do not stop their illegal attacks, which harm Middle Eastern economies, cause environmental damage, and disrupt the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen and other countries."

The UK Ministry of Defense said four Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4s targeted "several very long-range drones, used by the Houthis for both reconnaissance and attack missions," on Saturday, at a site northeast of Sanaa.

Saturday's operation comes after several merchant vessels were struck this week in the region, including the fertilizer-filled Rubymar, whose crew had to abandon ship after it was hit several days ago and began taking on water.

British maritime security agency UKMTO reported another attack on an unspecified ship near the port of Djibouti on Saturday night, saying there had been an "explosion in close proximity to the vessel, no damage is reported to the vessel and there are no injuries to the crew."

"Vessel is proceeding to next port of call," it added in a bulletin.

Apart from the joint operations with Britain, the United States has also carried out unilateral strikes against Houthi positions and weaponry in Yemen, and has downed dozens of missiles and drones in the Red Sea.


Yemen's Houthis Target Fuel Tanker Torm Thor in Gulf of Aden

A satellite view of the Red Sea's Bab al-Mandab strait. File Photo/NASA
A satellite view of the Red Sea's Bab al-Mandab strait. File Photo/NASA
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Yemen's Houthis Target Fuel Tanker Torm Thor in Gulf of Aden

A satellite view of the Red Sea's Bab al-Mandab strait. File Photo/NASA
A satellite view of the Red Sea's Bab al-Mandab strait. File Photo/NASA

Yemen's Houthis targeted MV Torm Thor, a US-flagged, owned, and operated oil tanker, in the Gulf of Aden, the Iran-aligned group's military spokesman Yahya Sarea said on Sunday, as the militants continue to attack shipping lanes in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

The group targeted the tanker with "a number of appropriate naval missiles," Sarea added in a televised speech.

The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said the USS Mason, a guided missile destroyer, on Saturday shot down one anti-ship ballistic missile launched into the Gulf of Aden from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen that was likely targeting the tanker.

Neither the USS Mason nor MV Torm Thor were damaged and there were no injuries, CENTCOM added in a statement.

The Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen, have launched exploding drones and missiles at commercial vessels since Nov. 19 as a protest against Israel's military operations in Gaza.


Tunisia's Ex-president Marzouki Sentenced to 8 Years in Absentia

Former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki. Asharq Al-Awsat
Former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki. Asharq Al-Awsat
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Tunisia's Ex-president Marzouki Sentenced to 8 Years in Absentia

Former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki. Asharq Al-Awsat
Former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki. Asharq Al-Awsat

A court in Tunisia sentenced former president Moncef Marzouki to eight years in prison in absentia.

The charges against Marzouki, who lives in Paris, stemmed from remarks he made that authorities said violated laws against incitement and calling for the overthrow of the government, court spokesperson Mohamed Zitouna told Tunisia's state news agency TAP on Friday evening.

His attorney, Samir Ben Amor, told The Associated Press that the sentence illustrates “the hardening of the political line taken by the government against opponents.”

Marzouki served as the first democratically elected president of Tunisia from 2011 to 2014.

A longtime human rights activist, Marzouki has emerged as a vocal critic of President Kais Saied's moves to consolidate his own power.

Marzouki's statements, which the court did not specify, amounted to fomenting “an attack designed to overthrow the government, inciting people to take up arms against each other and provoking disorder, murder and pillaging on Tunisian soil.”

He has routinely called on foreign powers to withdraw support to Tunisia amid the ongoing reversal of the country's democratic gains and called Saied a dictator who needs to be overthrown.

It's the second time that Marzouki has been sentenced for remarks made at demonstrations and on social media, following a December 2021 four-year verdict for undermining state security.

Marzouki is among more than 20 political opponents who have been charged or imprisoned since Saied consolidated power in 2021 by suspending parliament and rewriting the country's constitution.

The president's opponents, including Marzouki, have likened the moves to a coup — a charge that Saied has denied. Voters approved his constitutional changes in a low turnout 2021 referendum.


Israeli Officials to Meet with Delegation after Talks with Mediators on Proposed Pause in Gaza War

 Palestinians check destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP)
Palestinians check destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP)
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Israeli Officials to Meet with Delegation after Talks with Mediators on Proposed Pause in Gaza War

 Palestinians check destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP)
Palestinians check destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP)

High-ranking Israeli Cabinet members were expected to meet Saturday with a delegation that returned from talks in Paris with negotiators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar in search of a deal on pausing the fighting in Gaza, an Israeli official said.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, asserted that the Hamas militant group ruling Gaza had relented on some demands, but gave no details.

A senior official from Egypt, which along with Qatar is a mediator between Israel and Hamas, said the draft deal offered to Israel’s delegation included the release of up to 40 women and older hostages held in Gaza in return for up to 300 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, mostly women, minors and older people.

The Egyptian official said the proposed six-week pause in fighting would include allowing hundreds of aid trucks to enter Gaza every day, including the northern half of the besieged territory. He said that both sides agreed to continue negotiations during the pause for further releases and a permanent ceasefire. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing negotiations, said that mediators were waiting for Israel’s official response.

Negotiators face an unofficial deadline of the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan around March 10.

Hamas political official Osama Hamdan noted that the group wasn't at the talks, but asserted to reporters in Beirut on Friday that Israel had refused its main demands, including stopping the “aggression” and withdrawing from the Gaza Strip.

The Health Ministry in Gaza said Saturday that the bodies of 92 Palestinians killed in Israeli bombardments were brought to hospitals over the past 24 hours, raising the overall toll in nearly five months of war to 29,606. The total number of wounded rose to nearly 70,000.

The ministry's death toll doesn't distinguish between civilians and combatants, but it has said that two-thirds of those killed were children and women. Israel says its troops have killed more than 10,000 Hamas fighters, but hasn't provided details.

An Israeli airstrike hit a house in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, killing at least eight people. including four women and a child, health authorities said. An Associated Press journalist saw the bodies at Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital.

“Enough, enough. Either the Israelis or us should stop. There should be a truce,” said neighbor Abdul-Qader Shubeir, who described feeling lost at not being immediately able to put out the fire burning the bodies.