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Hamas Accepts Cease-Fire Deal As Israel Orders Rafah Evacuations

JERUSALEM (AP) — Hamas announced Monday it has accepted an Egyptian-Qatari proposal for a cease-fire to halt the seven-month-long war with Israel in Gaza, hours after Israel ordered about 100,000 Palestinians to begin evacuating from the southern city of Rafah, signaling that a long-promised ground invasion there could be imminent.

There was no immediate comment from Israel on the deal, and details of the proposal have not yet been released. In recent days, Egyptian and Hamas officials have said the cease-fire would take place in a series of stages during which Hamas would release hostages it is holding in exchange for Israeli troop pullbacks from Gaza.

It is not clear whether the deal will meet Hamas’ key demand of bringing about an end to the war and complete Israeli withdrawal.

Hamas said in a statement its top leader, Ismail Haniyeh, had delivered the news in a phone call with Qatar’s prime minister and Egypt’s intelligence minister. After the release of the statement, Palestinians erupted in cheers in the sprawling tent camps around Rafah, hoping the deal meant an Israeli attack had been averted.

Israel’s closest allies, including the United States, have repeatedly said that Israel shouldn’t attack Rafah. The looming operation has raised global alarm over the fate of around 1.4 million Palestinians sheltering there.

Aid agencies have warned that an offensive will worsen Gaza’s humanitarian catastrophe and bring a surge of more civilian deaths in an Israeli campaign that in nearly seven months has killed 34,000 people and devastated the territory.

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reiterated U.S. concerns about an invasion of Rafah. Biden said that a cease-fire with Hamas is the best way to protect the lives of Israeli hostages held in Gaza, a National Security Council spokesperson said on condition of anonymity to discuss the call before an official White House statement was released.

Hamas and key mediator Qatar said that invading Rafah will derail efforts by international mediators to broker a cease-fire. Days earlier, Hamas had been discussing a U.S.-backed proposal that reportedly raised the possibility of

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