Israel-Hamas cease-fire talks show new signs of progress

Smoke rises following Israeli strikes that hit a residential building and destroyed shops at Gaza's Old City market, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, in Gaza City. (Photo: Reuters)
Smoke rises following Israeli strikes that hit a residential building and destroyed shops at Gaza's Old City market, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, in Gaza City. (Photo: Reuters)

Summary

Tensions on Israel’s northern border deepened as Hezbollah launched one of its largest rocket barrages in months.

Cease-fire talks between Israel and Hamas that could bring about the release of more hostages appeared to move forward this week, as tensions on Israel’s northern border deepened after Hezbollah launched one of its largest rocket barrages in months.

The Iranian-backed Lebanese group said it fired more than 200 rockets into northern Israel Thursday, this time in retaliation for Israel killing a senior Hezbollah commander on Wednesday. The Israeli military said it had intercepted several projectiles but falling shrapnel had sparked fires in a number of areas in the north as alarm sirens blared for hours.

The killing of Muhammad Neamah Naser and other top Hezbollah commanders in recent months, along with intensifying Hezbollah attacks, has raised fresh concerns that Israel’s war in Gaza could spread into a broader conflict that could draw in the U.S., Iran and Tehran’s network of militia allies through the region. The Hezbollah barrage also included strike drones aimed at military bases in northern Israel. The Israeli military said Naser had been responsible for directing terrorist attacks in Israel.

A cease-fire deal in Gaza could be the most effective means of heading off a wider conflagration.

Israel and Hamas confirmed this week that prospects for a cease-fire deal have rekindled after the two sides reached a deadlock in May. Hamas said Wednesday that its political chief, Ismail Haniyeh, had recently communicated to mediators in Qatar and Egypt ideas for reaching a deal. Israel’s Mossad spy agency said its negotiators were evaluating Hamas’s comments.

A senior Israeli official said the suggestions, which were delivered Wednesday, had enough changes to warrant moving forward on talks. A key change is that Hamas is no longer demanding a full Israeli withdrawal during the first stage of the deal, which would involve the release of some hostages in Gaza during a six-week cease-fire.

The official emphasized that negotiations with Hamas would still be difficult, likely requiring several weeks to hammer out any deal before beginning stage one.

Of approximately 250 hostages taken in Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack, 116 remain in Gaza, including at least 42 who have been confirmed dead by Israel. The number includes eight American hostages, some of whom are dead.

As Israel prepares to wind down major combat operations in Gaza, the country is increasingly turning its attention to the northern border. Hezbollah has been exchanging attacks with Israel since Oct. 7 and in recent weeks, the two sides have traded fire deeper and more forcefully into their respective territories. Hezbollah said its attacks are in support of the Palestinians and that it won’t stop until Israel ends its war in Gaza.

Write to Shan Li at shan.li@wsj.com and Dov Lieber at dov.lieber@wsj.com

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