Signs of hope as Israel, Hamas hold 'proximity talks' in Qatar: Updates

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Editor's Note: This page is a summary of news on the Israel-Hamas war for Monday, Feb. 25. For the latest news on the conflict in the Middle East, view our live updates file on the war for Tuesday, Feb. 27.

Israel sent a delegation to Doha, Qatar, on Monday to continue negotiating an extended cease-fire and the release of hostages, and while its officials did not appear encouraged a deal would materialize, there are optimistic signs.

Israeli media reported the progress made during weekend talks in Paris has stalled in part because Hamas demands troop withdrawal and a major increase in the amount of humanitarian aid going into war-battered Gaza, where a large segment of the population is facing famine.

But Israel has made a major concession, indicating a new willingness to trade the freedom of Palestinian prisoners convicted of major terrorist acts for the release of some Israeli soldiers captured in the Hamas-led attacks of Oct. 7, the New York Times reported.

At a public appearance in an ice cream shop Monday, President Joe Biden was asked about a possible start date for a truce and said, “I hope by the end of the weekend. My national security adviser tells me that we’re close, we’re close. We’re done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a cease-fire.’’

Reuters reported the presence of both quarreling sides in the same location even when they're exchanging proposals through mediators instead of face-to-face − so-called proximity talks − is a sign of movement toward an agreement.

Reuters also reported Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, whose nation has played a key role brokering talks along with the U.S. and Egypt, met Monday with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Publicly, both sides remain far apart, as exemplified by Haniyeh accusing Israel of stalling while Palestinians die in Gaza, saying, "We will not allow the enemy to use negotiations as a cover for this crime." Netanyahu has called Hamas' demands "delusional.''

People walk in front of the Al-Faruk mosque, leveled by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Feb. 25, 2024.
People walk in front of the Al-Faruk mosque, leveled by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Feb. 25, 2024.


Yoav Gallant, Israel's defense minister, said "only after all the hostages are released" will the hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians in Gaza be able to return to their homes in the north, Al Jazeera reported.

The number of trucks bringing humanitarian aid into Gaza has dwindled from a daily average of 139 in the first six weeks of the year to 70 over the last 2 1/2 weeks, according to U.N. figures. Truck influx has been sporadic in the last 10 days, with as many as 220 one day as as few as four another.

The Jordanian Armed Forces on Monday carried out four airdrops of aid for civilians in Gaza, according to Al-Mamlaka TV, a Jordanian public news channel.

Across northern and central Gaza, Israeli forces have killed over 40 militants, a statement from the military said. In Khan Younis, a city in southern Gaza where the military has focused its offensive for weeks, an Israeli fighter jet struck a Hamas compound.

∎ The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said on Monday morning that over the last 24 hours, 90 Palestinians were killed and 164 were injured across the territory. Since the war began, more than 29,700 Palestinians have been killed.

This picture taken from Rafah shows smoke billowing following Israeli bombardment of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Feb. 26, 2024.
This picture taken from Rafah shows smoke billowing following Israeli bombardment of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Feb. 26, 2024.

Israeli War Cabinet sees Rafah plans

The Israeli military has presented the War Cabinet with its plan to evacuate Rafah − the city in southern Gaza where more than a million displaced civilians are sheltering − and details of its imminent invasion to dismantle what Israeli leaders have called Hamas' final stronghold, authorities said Monday.

Though the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the developments, specifics of the plan have not been released. It's also unclear whether the War Cabinet approved the long-awaited plan, which has been the concern of humanitarian aid groups, the U.N. and the Biden administration. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday that the administration has yet to see a strategy for Rafah it would support.

The statement from Netanyahu's office added that the War Cabinet approved a "plan for providing humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip in a manner that will prevent the looting that has occurred in the northern Strip." Last week, the World Food Program suspended aid deliveries to northern Gaza, citing "violence and chaos due to the collapse of civil order."

"Gaza is hanging by a thread and WFP must be enabled to reverse the path toward famine for thousands of desperately hungry people," a statement from the U.N. group said.

Houthis wreak havoc again, damage communications cables, report says

The Houthi rebels in Yemen, who for months have been attacking merchant ships in the Red Sea, have found another way to disrupt Western commercial endeavors.

The Iran-backed militant group has damaged four underwater communications cables in the Red Sea linking Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and Djibouti in east Africa, the Israeli Globes news platform reported Monday.

The sabotage of cables belonging to the Seacom, TGN, AAE-1 and EIG companies is "causing serious disruption of Internet communications between Europe and Asia,'' Globes reported, adding that the biggest impact has been felt in the Persian Gulf countries and India.

The report also said it will take at least eight weeks to repair the damage, and that communications to the affected continents will be impaired but not cut off because other cables in the area connecting Asia, Africa and Europe remain intact.

The Houthis say their assaults on commercial shipping are meant to show solidarity with Palestinians in embattled Gaza, and they have not desisted in their missile and drone campaign despite the U.S. and U.K. striking several of their launch sites.

Palestinian aid group suspends missions in Gaza, blames Israeli forces

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society, an independent aid group, announced Monday that it will suspend coordinating medical missions throughout Gaza for at least 48 hours, saying Israeli forces have on multiple occasions detained medical personnel and delayed urgent transports of patients.

The PRCS said Sunday that its workers evacuated patients from Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis and took them to Rafah because they required specialized medical treatment. The group said that despite its members and the U.N. humanitarian coordination office receiving clearance from the Israeli military for the evacuation and providing the convoy route, Israeli forces stopped them for more than seven hours, mistreated medics and arrested three of them. One of them was released several hours later, the PRCS said in a post on X.

The group called for the international community to compel Israel to "respect and protect medical personnel and facilities and to provide a safe humanitarian space that is essential for the survival of Palestinians in Gaza."

US serviceman dies after setting himself ablaze in protest of war in Gaza

The active duty U.S. Air Force member who set himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington while shouting, "Free Palestine," died from his injuries, the Metropolitan Police Department confirmed Monday.

Aaron Bushnell, 25, of Whitman, Massachusetts, doused himself in liquid and lit himself Sunday afternoon after saying in a video livestreamed on Twitch that he "will no longer be complicit in genocide."

The Air Force confirmed on Monday that Bushnell was an active duty member. he was a cyber defense operations specialist with the 531st Intelligence Support Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland, Texas. He served on active duty since May 2020.

The MPD said police are working with the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to investigate the incident.

“When a tragedy like this occurs, every member of the Air Force feels it,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Celina Noyes, 70th Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance Wing commander. “We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Senior Airman Bushnell. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, and we ask that you respect their privacy during this difficult time.”

– Tom Vanden Brook, Cybele Mayes-Osterman

Israeli jets strike Hezbollah targets 'deep inside Lebanon,' military says

Israeli fighter jets on Monday struck what the military said were Hezbollah targets "deep inside Lebanon," the latest escalation in fighting since cross-border exchanges became near daily occurrences after Oct. 7.

Three airstrikes hit the outskirts of the Buday village, near the Hezbollah stronghold of Baalbek, according to Lebanese security officials. At least two people were killed, a Hezbollah official told reporters. Israel later said one of its strikes hit a car in the southern village of Majadel, near the countries' border, killing Hezbollah field commander Hassan Salami.

Following the strikes near Baalbek, Hezbollah fired about 60 rockets at an Israeli military base in Syria’s Golan Heights, which Israel occupies. The Israeli military said on a post on X that the strikes were in response to a missile fired at Israel from Lebanon. A missile also reportedly downed an Israeli drone operating inside Lebanon.

The Israeli strikes on Monday were the most significant escalation in fighting since Saleh al-Arouri, a top Hamas leader, was killed in January when an apparent Israeli strike hit a Beirut suburb.

Human rights groups say Israel noncompliant with UN order

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on Monday accused Israel of failing to comply with an order by the U.N.'s top court to provide humanitarian aid to the more than 2 million people in the war-torn enclave.

In January, the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands, ordered Israel to take measures to limit death and destruction in Gaza as part of a case brought by South Africa alleging Israel’s military campaign amounts to genocide.

Human Rights Watch said the number of aid trucks that have entered Gaza in recent weeks has dropped by 30% and that Israel has not facilitated fuel deliveries to the northern part of the territory. On Sunday, the Gaza Health Ministry said a lack of fuel has forced several hospitals in the north to cease operations and has put intensive care patients at risk.

"The Israeli government has simply ignored the court’s ruling, and in some ways even intensified its repression, including further blocking lifesaving aid," said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.

Israeli leaders have denied the allegations and blamed humanitarian organizations, saying hundreds of trucks filled with aid sit idle on the Palestinian side of the main crossing. The U.N. says it can’t always reach the trucks at the crossing because at times it's too dangerous.

Palestinian prime minister, government resign

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh and his government resigned Monday in a move that could signal a willingness by Palestinian leadership to back reforms seen as necessary by the U.S. to revitalize the governing body for a role in Gaza after the war ends.

Authority President Mahmoud Abbas must still decide whether to accept the resignation of Shtayyeh, who has been in the role since 2019, and his Cabinet. The authority was ousted from Gaza in a Hamas coup in 2007. It still has administrative control over some parts of the West Bank.

“The next stage and its challenges require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the new reality in the Gaza Strip,” Shtayyeh said at a Cabinet meeting in Ramallah in the West Bank. Abbas is expected to choose Mohammad Mustafa, chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund, as the next prime minister.

Abbas, 88, and his Fatah political party have dominated the Palestinian Authority since 2005. However, polls show many Palestinians regard his administration as corrupt, undemocratic and out of touch. Abbas has not held elections since 2006. After U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Abbas late last year, he told reporters they discussed reforms to combat corruption, empower civil society and support a free press.

– Kim Hjelmgaard

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Israel Hamas war updates: Signs of hope, 'proximity talks' in Qatar