Israeli troops recover slain Gaza hostage, Egypt to host new truce talks

Israel said on Saturday its special forces had recovered the body of a hostage killed while being held captive in Gaza, as the Palestinian enclave’s dominant Islamist movement Hamas said it would take part in a new round of ceasefire talks in Cairo.

Almost six months into the war, Israel has faced protests at home demanding a deal to free the dwindling number of live hostages from Hamas’ Oct. 7 cross-border rampage. Western countries, meanwhile, have voiced outrage over what they see as an unacceptably high Palestinian civilian toll and the accompanying humanitarian crisis.

The body of Elad Katzir, a 47-year-old Israeli farmer, was unearthed by commandos in southern Khan Younis overnight, the military said. He had been killed by his Palestinian Islamic Jihad captors and buried there in mid-January, it said, citing intelligence information about which it declined to elaborate.

Islamic Jihad, an ally of Hamas, had no immediate comment.

Katzir was among 253 people dragged into Gaza by Hamas-led gunmen who killed some 1,200 others in southern Israel, according to official tallies, sparking an offensive that medics in the enclave say has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians.

His father Avraham was killed in their kibbutz, Nir Oz, and his mother Hanna was also taken hostage but freed in November under a truce.

Qatari and Egyptian mediators have been trying to secure another deal that might return some of the 129 remaining hostages in a longer ceasefirein Gaza.

The Gaza Health Ministry on Saturday reported one of the lowest daily death tolls in six months, saying 46 Palestinians had been killed in Israeli strikes over the past 24 hours.

The Gaza-based ministry does not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants in its reports but local health officials say most the fatalities have been civilians. Israel says at least a third are fighters.

Hamas on Saturday said its fighters targeted three Israeli tanks in Khan Younis with missiles, inflicting casualties. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military, though it said earlier that troops had engaged with gunmen in the area.

Angered by an Israeli air strike that killed aid workers in Gaza, U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday urged an “immediate ceasefire” and for Israel to boost humanitarian relief measures.

Israel later approved the reopening of the Erez crossing into northern Gaza and the temporary use of Ashdod port in southern Israel.

Jamie McGoldrick, U.N. aid coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, welcomed the Israeli measures on Saturday. “We stand ready to work with all parties to alleviate the suffering of people in Gaza,” he said in a statement.

Hamas said it would send a delegation to Cairo on Sunday for a new round of mediated talks. Israel was undecided on whether to attend, an Israeli official said, citing concern that the event would be “more political theatre than actual progress”.

Hamas wants any deal to bring about an end to the war and withdrawal of Israeli forces. Israel has said that, after any truce, it would topple Hamas, which is sworn to its destruction.

Protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem calling on the Israeli government to secure a hostage release were set to take place on Saturday and Sunday, which marks six months since the Oct. 7 attack.

In a Jan. 8 video posted by Islamic Jihad online, Katzir said: “I was close to dying more than once. It’s a miracle I’m still alive … I want to tell my family that I love them very much and I miss them very much.”

Based on various sources of information, Israel has declared at least 35 hostages as dead in Gaza captivity. Palestinian factions have said some were killed in Israeli strikes. While confirming this in several cases, Israel says that, in others, hostages whose bodies were recovered bore signs of execution.

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