By Nidal al-Mughrabi

CAIRO (Reuters) -Hamas is waiting for a response from Israel on its ceasefire proposal, two officials from the militant Islamist group said on Sunday, five days after it accepted a key part of a U.S. plan aimed at ending the nine-month-old war in Gaza.

“We have left our response with the mediators and are waiting to hear the occupation’s response,” one of the two Hamas officials told Reuters, asking not to be named.

The three-phase plan for the Palestinian enclave was put forward at the end of May by U.S. President Joe Biden and is being mediated by Qatar and Egypt. It aims to end the war and free around 120 Israeli hostages being held by Hamas.

Another Palestinian official, with knowledge of the ceasefire deliberations, said Israel was in talks with the Qataris.

“They have discussed with them Hamas’ response and they promised to give them Israel’s response within days,” the official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters on Sunday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that negotiations would continue this week but has not given any detailed timeline.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, has dropped a key demand that Israel first commit to a permanent ceasefire before it would sign an agreement. Instead, it said it would allow negotiations to achieve that throughout the six-week first phase, a Hamas source told Reuters on Saturday on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

A Palestinian official close to the peace efforts has said the proposal could lead to a framework agreement if embraced by Israel and would end the war.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns will travel to Qatar this week for negotiations, a source familiar with the matter said.

The conflict was triggered nine months ago on Oct. 7 when Hamas-led fighters attacked southern Israel from Gaza, killing 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostages in the worst assault in Israel’s history, according to official Israeli figures.

More than 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s military onslaught, according to Gaza health officials, and the coastal enclave has largely been reduced to rubble.

The U.N. agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, called the situation increasingly tragic, saying in a post on X, “families continue to face forced displacement, massive destruction and constant fear. Essential supplies are lacking, the heat is unbearable, diseases are spreading”.

PROTESTS IN ISRAEL

Protesters took to the streets across Israel on Sunday to pressure the government to reach an accord to bring back hostages still being held in Gaza.

They blocked rush hour traffic at major intersections across the country, picketed politicians houses and briefly set fire to tires on the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway before police cleared the way.

Meanwhile, fighting continued to rage across Gaza, and north Israel came under rocket attack from Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Air raid sirens sent residents of 24 Israeli towns running for shelter. One person was seriously wounded, police said. Hezbollah said it had fired rockets at an army base.

In Gaza, Palestinian health officials said at least 15 people were killed in separate Israeli military strikes on Sunday.

An Israeli air strike on a house in the town of Zawayda, in central Gaza, killed at least six people and wounded several others, while six others were killed in an air strike on a house in western Gaza, the health officials said.

Tanks deepened their raids in central and northern areas of Rafah on the southern border with Egypt. Health officials there said they had recovered three bodies of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire in the eastern part of the city.

The Israeli military said on Sunday its forces had killed 30 Palestinian gunmen in Rafah during close combat and air strikes in the past day.

In Shejaia, an eastern suburb of Gaza City, the military said its forces killed several Palestinian gunmen, and located weapons and explosives.

The armed wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad said fighters attacked Israeli forces in several locations across the Gaza Strip with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs.

(Reporting and writing by Nidal al-MughrabiEditing by Sharon Singleton and Frances Kerry)

Brought to you by www.srnnews.com