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It’s been a whiplash-inducing 36 hours in Washington. Breakthrough or broke in Gaza?

The prospect of a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas, which had seemed possible during the weekend, ebbed away as Sunday turned to Monday. Then a moment, but one which soon evaporated.

So what’s going on?

When President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone late on Monday morning, hope for a deal, being hashed out thousands of miles away in the Qatari capital, Doha, seemed slim.

Instead the focus was on what Mr Netanyahu planned to do with the troops he had ordered to amass in southern Israel just over the Israeli border fence from the Gazan city of Rafah.

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Israeli airstrikes hit Rafah. Pic: AP
Image:
Israeli airstrikes hit Rafah. Pic: AP

As Mr Netanyahu and Mr Biden spoke, leaflets were fluttering down over Rafah, telling the more than a million people there to leave, to head north to Israeli-self-declared safe zones.

President Biden has repeatedly told the Israeli leadership America would not support a ground invasion of Rafah without a comprehensive and workable plan for the civilians – a plan that has not been forthcoming.

But over the past six months, we’ve all learnt American influence over its ally Israel has its limits.

Even US military officials have questioned the logic of a massive ground invasion of such a heavily populated area.

They understand the basic military objectives of rooting out the remaining Hamas battalions hiding in Rafah. Yes, those fighters are hiding behind civilians, but shouldn’t that give pause for thought rather than ploughing on regardless?

Analysis: Peace in Gaza looks as distant as ever

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Displaced people react to IDF’s evacuation warning

Military operation doomed to fail?

The consequences of Israel’s policy of flattening the cities north of Rafah are yet to be calculated.

Beyond the elusive concept of “total victory”, Mr Netanyahu has never explained what his political endgame is or who the political partner in Gaza would be.

By the measure of most students of warfare and history, any military operation which lacks a clear political endgame is doomed to fail and will make a lasting settlement so much harder.

The phone call between Mr Biden and Mr Netanyahu lasted about half an hour and we’re told it was “constructive”.

The president “made clear” his views on the Rafah operation “that could potentially put more than a million innocent people at greater risk”, his spokesperson said.

But the vibes from Israel were that the Rafah operation was looking more likely than not.

Palestinians in Rafah cheer after Hamas announced it had accepted a ceasefire proposal. Pic: Reuters
Image:
Palestinians cheer after Hamas announced it had accepted a ceasefire proposal. Pic: Reuters

Hamas agrees to ceasefire deal

Then, at lunchtime in Washington, news suddenly of a potential breakthrough.

Hamas had issued a statement agreeing to the ceasefire deal.

A big moment it seemed. But what, precisely, were the terms of the deal they had agreed to? Which deal was it? The one Secretary of State Antony Blinken had trumpeted in yet another tour of the region last week? He’d called it “generous”.

It wasn’t clear, and as I write, it’s still not entirely clear.

But in Rafah – they’d got wind of it. The scenes of jubilation were honestly sad to watch. They are so desperate for peace but they’re so likely to be let down.

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‘There is not a deal, there is no acceptance’

White House spokesperson unaware of latest bombings

A little later, no word from President Biden, but his spokesperson, John Kirby, was busy treading water. “We’re currently reviewing the response,” was the White House line.

Mr Kirby was then asked if he was aware bombs were being dropped on Rafah as he spoke. Was that not a clear indication that Mr Netanyahu was rejecting whatever Hamas had agreed to?

He was not aware of the latest bombings, he said.

Then, in an optically terrible moment, as the White House spokesman was saying (again) that President Biden was uneasy, at best, about something Israel was planning, Israel went right ahead and did it anyway.

An IDF statement was published which said: “The IDF is currently conducting targeted strikes against Hamas terror targets in eastern Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Details to follow.”

The statement confirmed what our local teams on the ground were seeing and hearing with their eyes and ears.

Palestinians flee Rafah after the Israeli army ordered them to evacuate. Pic: AP
Image:
Palestinians flee Rafah after the Israeli army ordered them to evacuate

Smoke rises from Rafah after an Israeli airstrike on the Gaza city
Image:
Smoke rises from Rafah after an Israeli airstrike. Pics: AP

Israel to send team to Egypt for ceasefire talks

My social media feeds are again full of the sort of images which we could never publish on taste grounds but which we have seen so many times during the course of this war.

Then a statement from Mr Netanyahu’s office – the war cabinet had “unanimously decided Israel will continue its operation in Rafah, in order to apply military pressure on Hamas so as to advance the release of our hostages and achieve the other objectives of the war”.

It added that a team would be sent to Egypt to “maximise the possibility of reaching an agreement on terms acceptable to Israel”.

Jordan could be key to ceasefire

Rafah is part of Mr Netanyahu’s negotiating strategy of course.

President Biden happened to be having lunch with King Abdullah of Jordan at the White House as news of the Hamas agreement came through.

In a conflict where we look hard for honest brokers to decipher what’s actually going on, perhaps Jordan is close?

It’s a key Arab nation, made up of so many exiled Palestinians, but a diplomatic partner to Israel and a key ally of America.

Netanyahu ‘jeopardising the deal by bombing Rafah’

After the lunch there was no comment from Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi when I asked him if a deal was really possible.

Then, a tweet from him: “Tremendous effort has been made to produce an exchange deal that’ll release hostages and realise a ceasefire. Hamas has put out an offer. If Netanyahu genuinely wants a deal, he will negotiate the offer in earnest. Instead, he is jeopardising the deal by bombing Rafah.”

The opposing view is that Hamas has laid a trap, subtly shifting the terms of the deal allowing the world to think it’s Israel who has rejected it.

There is one indisputable trap: Gaza. A miserable cycle of human suffering in a locked-off strip of land.

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Zelenskyy calls on Biden and Xi to join Ukraine peace summit

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Zelenskyy calls on Biden and Xi to join Ukraine peace summit

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has directly called on his US and Chinese counterparts to join his latest summit for peace in Ukraine.

Speaking from Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine on Friday, Mr Zelenskyy announced a “global peace summit”, co-hosted by Switzerland, starting on 15 June.

He claimed 80 countries have already confirmed their attendance.

But he said: “I am appealing to the global leaders of the world who are still outside the global efforts of the global peace summit.

“To President Biden, the leader of the United States, and to President Xi, the leader of China, we do not want the UN charter to be burned.

“Please show your leadership in advancing the peace.”

Residents evacuated from a building hit by strikes in Kharkiv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters
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Residents evacuated from a building hit by strikes in Kharkiv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters

He added that it must be “real peace – not just a pause in the strikes” after various ceasefire breaches by the Russians.

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Finally, he urged: “The efforts of the global majority are the best guarantee that all commitments will be fulfilled.”

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Shopping mall hit by strike in Kharkiv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters

Printworks and shopping centre targeted this week

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, with a pre-war population of 1.5 million people, is close to the frontline, and has been consistently targeted since the initial invasion in February 2022.

On Thursday, its ‘Vivat’ printworks, which is the country’s largest, was hit by missiles, killing seven people, and destroying an estimated 50,000 books. A further 21 people were injured, Ukrainian officials said.

On Saturday, a strike on a shopping centre killed six people, injured 40, and left a further 16 unaccounted for, local authorities said.

Elsewhere in the city, an additional 11 people were injured as a result of strikes, including a 13-year-old boy.

Just over the border, in Russia’s Belgorod region, the regional governor there said four residents died as a result of Ukrainian attacks on Saturday.

Aftermath of Russian strike on Kharkiv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters
Image:
Aftermath of Russian strike on Kharkiv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters

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Crowded DIY stores hit by strikes
Ukrainians training without firing due to shortages
Putin thanks Xi for his Ukraine efforts

Mr Zelenskyy warned a new Russian offensive is being planned northwest of Kharkiv.

Ukrainians and military analysts have repeatedly warned of depleting weapon supplies on the frontline.

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Earlier this month the US agreed to a further $2bn (£1.6bn) in military support for Ukraine.

It has consistently resisted calls to send US troops there, in line with NATO’s refusal for direct involvement in the conflict.

China has resisted calls by NATO and its member states to take a direct stance against Russia in support of Ukraine.

President Xi hosted Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a show of “friendship” earlier this month.

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Hamas launches first rocket attack on Israel from Gaza in months

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Hamas launches first rocket attack on Israel from Gaza in months

Hamas has launched rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza for the first time in months.

The barrage of rockets set off air raid sirens in cities as far away as Tel Aviv.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage in what appeared to be the first long-range rocket attack from Gaza since January, although Palestinian militants have continued to sporadically fire rockets and mortar rounds at communities along the Gaza border since then.

Hamas’s military wing claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Israeli military said eight projectiles crossed into Israel after being launched from the area of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where Israeli forces recently launched an incursion.

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This breaking news story is being updated and more details will be published shortly.

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You can receive breaking news alerts on a smartphone or tablet via the Sky News app. You can also follow @SkyNews on X or subscribe to our YouTube channel to keep up with the latest news.

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India: Newborn babies killed in fire at hospital in Delhi after ‘chain of explosions’

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India: Newborn babies killed in fire at hospital in Delhi after 'chain of explosions'

At least six newborn babies have died after a fire broke out at a children’s hospital in India, according to reports.

Firefighters said they carried 12 newborns out of the centre in the Vivek Vihar district of east New Delhi late on Saturday night, but five of them died due to smoke inhalation.

Two other infants are believed to have already died, according to local media. There are differing reports as to whether six or seven infants have been killed so far.

Another five survived and are being treated in a nearby hospital, Delhi fire department chief Atul Garg said.

The blaze, which broke out on the first floor of the hospital, was put out after about an hour.

Burnt registration cards lie on the floor of a baby care center in New Delhi, India, Sunday, May 26, 2024. A fire broke out in the care center on Saturday night killing six infants, a fire service officer said on Sunday. (AP Photo/Dinesh Joshi)
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Burnt registration cards lie on the floor of the hospital. Pic: AP

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Mr Garg told the ANI news agency that an oxygen cylinder blast was the likely cause of the fire, but there has been no official confirmation.

“It was a very tough operation,” he was quoted as saying by India Today.

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“We made two teams. One team started firefighting because there was a blast of cylinders. We can say it was a chain of blasts of cylinders.

“We had to save ourselves also. We started rescue operations for babies as well. Unfortunately, we could not save all the children… That is a regrettable incident.”

The owner of the baby hospital has fled, according to Delhi police.

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister, called the fire “heartbreaking”, adding that the “causes of the incident are being investigated and whoever is responsible for this negligence will not be spared”.

Machines move the debris following a fire in a gaming zone in Rajkot, in the western state of Gujarat, India, May 26, 2024. REUTERS/Amit Dave
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Machines move debris after a fire in Rajkot. Pic: Reuters

Earlier on Saturday, at least 27 people were killed in a fire at a crowded amusement park in the city of Rajkot in Gujarat state in western India.

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