Israel, Hamas dampen hopes for speedy Gaza truce deal

Israel and Hamas both dampened hopes on Monday of a speedy breakthrough in Cairo talks towards a Gaza truce and hostage release deal after Egyptian state-linked media had reported "significant progress".

As the Gaza war raged on into a seventh month, Israel is under growing international pressure to agree to a ceasefire, including from its top ally and arms supplier the United States.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted on Sunday — half a year after the Oct. 7 attack — that Israel is "one step away from victory" and has vowed to defeat remaining Hamas fighters in Gaza's far-southern Rafah city.

On the same day however, the army also announced it had pulled its forces out of southern Gaza, although military commanders stressed the withdrawal was tactical and did not signal an end to the war.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said the troops would "prepare for future missions, including ... in Rafah" on the Egyptian border where almost 1.5 million Gazans live in crowded shelters and tents.

Amid the threats and ongoing fighting, Netanyahu has sent negotiators to fresh truce talks that started in Cairo on Sunday, joined by U.S., Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

U.S. President Joe Biden sent CIA chief Bill Burns to the talks, three days after a terse phone call with Netanyahu in which Biden demanded a halt to the fighting and greater steps to help and protect Gaza civilians.

Egypt's state-linked news outlet Al-Qahera reported "significant progress being made on several contentious points of agreement", citing an unnamed high-ranking Egyptian source.

The Qatari and Hamas delegations had left Cairo and were expected to return "within two days to finalise the terms of the agreement", it said, while the U.S. and...

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