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Israeli forces push deeper into Gaza City as Hamas warns escalation threatens ceasefire talks

DEIR AL-BALAH: Israeli forces advanced deeper into the Gaza Strip’s largest city in pursuit of militants who had gathered there, forcing thousands of Palestinians to flee Monday an area ravaged in the first weeks of the nine-month war.
Hamas has warned that the latest raids and displacement in Gaza City could lead to the collapse of long-running negotiations on a ceasefire and the release of hostages, after the two sides appeared to narrow their differences in recent days.
Israeli troops have again been battling militants in areas the army said it had largely evacuated months ago in northern Gaza. The army ordered evacuations ahead of the raids, but Palestinians have said they feel safe nowhere. Most of the 2.3 million residents have been displaced, often multiple times. Hundreds of thousands are crammed into stifling tent camps.
Israel ordered the evacuation of northern Gaza in the first weeks of the war and has prevented most residents from returning. But hundreds of thousands of Palestinians still live in shelters or ruined homes.
“We fled in the dark under heavy shelling,” said Sayeda Abdel-Baki, a mother of three who has been sheltering with relatives in the Daraj neighborhood. “This is my fifth displacement.”
Residents reported artillery and tank fire, as well as airstrikes. The health ministry in Gaza, which has limited access to the north, did not immediately report any casualties.
Israel issued additional evacuation orders for other neighborhoods in central Gaza City. The army said it had intelligence showing that Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants were in the area, and urged residents to head south toward the town of Deir Al-Balah.
Israel accuses Hamas and other militants of hiding among civilians. In Shijaiyah, a Gaza City neighborhood that has been the scene of weeks of fighting, the military said troops attacked and destroyed schools and a clinic that had been turned into camps for militants.
The war decimated vast swathes of urban landscape and triggered a humanitarian catastrophe.
Obstacles to an agreement
Israel and Hamas appear closer than at any time in months to agreeing to a cease-fire deal that would end the fighting in exchange for the release of dozens of hostages taken by Hamas in the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war.
CIA Director William Burns returned to the region on Monday for talks in Cairo, according to Egyptian state television Qahera, which is close to the security services. An Israeli delegation is also traveling to the Egyptian capital, Israeli media reported.
But obstacles remain, even after Hamas agreed to drop its main demand that Israel commit to ending the war as part of any deal. The scale of the destruction caused by the Israeli offensive is a key factor in that change of course, officials told The Associated Press.
Hamas still wants the mediators to ensure that the negotiations result in a permanent ceasefire, according to two officials familiar with the talks. The current plan calls for the mediators – the United States, Qatar and Egypt – to “do their best” to ensure that the negotiations result in an agreement to end the war.
Israel has rejected any deal that would require it to end the war with Hamas intact – a condition Netanyahu reiterated on Sunday.
Hamas said Monday it was “offering flexibility and positivity” to facilitate a deal, while accusing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “putting more obstacles in the way of negotiations.”
At the same time, Hamas’ top political leader Ismail Haniyeh warned mediators of “catastrophic consequences” if Israel continued its operations in Gaza City, saying Netanyahu and the military would bear “full responsibility” for the failure of the talks, the group said in a subsequent statement.
The two officials said there was also a standoff over whether Hamas could choose which high-ranking prisoners held by Israel it wants to release in exchange for hostages. Some prisoners have been convicted of killing Israelis, and Israel does not want Hamas to decide who gets released. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss such sensitive discussions with the media.
Bombings prevent rescuers from reaching bodies
Inside Gaza, residents saw no end to their suffering.
Maha Mahfouz fled her home with her two children and many neighbors in the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City. She said their neighborhood was not affected by the latest evacuation orders, but “we are panicking because the shelling and shooting are very close to us.”
Fadel Naeem, director of Al-Ahli hospital, said patients fled the facility despite no evacuation orders being issued for the surrounding area. He added that patients in critical condition were evacuated to other hospitals in northern Gaza.
Marwan Al-Sultan, director of the Indonesian hospital, said the facility had received 80 patients and wounded from Al-Ahli, crammed into “every corner.”
“Many cases require urgent surgery. Many patients have direct head injuries and require intensive care. Fuel and medical supplies are running out,” he said in a text message. He added that the hospital had also received the bodies of 16 people killed in the Israeli incursion, half of them women and children.
Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for the Civil Defense First Responders, which operates under the Hamas-led government, said the neighborhoods of Tufah, Daraj and Shijaiyah had become inaccessible due to Israeli shelling. In a voice message, he said the army had shelled homes in the Jaffa area of ​​Gaza City and that first responders “saw people lying on the ground and were unable to retrieve them.”
The war has left more than 38,000 dead in Gaza, according to the Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.
The Hamas cross-border raid on October 7 left 1,200 people dead in southern Israel, mostly civilians, according to Israeli authorities. The militants took about 250 people hostage. About 120 of them remain in captivity, and about a third of them are believed to be dead.