Israel says Hamas decision to accept ceasefire deal is a 'ruse'

Hamas says it has accepted a ceasefire deal proposed by Egypt and Qatar - as Israel suggests it will not accept the proposal in its current form.

The Palestinian militant group has issued a statement saying its supreme leader, Ismail Haniyeh, had expressed his agreement in a phone call with Qatar's prime minister and Egypt's intelligence minister.

Mr Haniyeh said in a call with Qatar's head of state that Israel should "seize the moment" and accept the proposal.

It comes as Iran's foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Mr Haniyeh told him the "ball is now in Israel's court".

A Hamas official has said the group will send a delegation to visit the Egyptian capital Cairo to discuss the ceasefire proposal and the next steps.

However, an Israeli official has said Hamas has agreed to a "softened" proposal which is "not acceptable to Israel".

The official added that Hamas' announcement "appears to be a ruse to cast Israel as the side refusing a deal".

Egypt and Qatar have been mediating months of talks between Hamas and Israel.

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Israel 'conducting strikes in Rafah'

Hamas has agreed to the proposed ceasefire hours after Israel ordered Palestinians to begin evacuating the southern Gaza town of Rafah ahead of an Israeli military operation.

Israel says Rafah is Hamas' last stronghold.

People in Rafah celebrated in the streets after Hamas announced it had accepted the proposed ceasefire. However, hours later the Israeli military said it was currently conducting targeted strikes on Hamas in east Rafah.

Asked earlier during a media briefing whether Hamas' decision would impact the planned offensive in Rafah, Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said: "We examine every answer and response in the most serious manner and are exhausting every possibility regarding negotiations and returning the hostages."

Mr Hagari added: "In parallel, we are still operating in the Gaza Strip and will continue to do so."

Details of the proposal were not immediately released, but in recent days, Egyptian and Hamas officials have said the ceasefire would take place in stages in which Hamas would release hostages it is holding in exchange for Israeli troop pullbacks from Gaza.

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

The White House has said it is reviewing the Palestinian militant group's response to the ceasefire proposal but has declined to give any details of what was agreed.

CIA Director William Burns has been in the region having discussions on the proposal, White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.

"We want to get these hostages out, we want to get a ceasefire in place for six weeks, we want to increase humanitarian assistance," Mr Kirby said, adding that reaching an agreement would be the "absolute best outcome".

Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the US State Department, has said America will be discussing Hamas' response to the proposed ceasefire "with our partners in the region" in the hours ahead.

However, he would not comment on Israel's claim that Hamas had agreed to a proposal that had been "softened" compared to a framework that had initially been worked on.

He added that a ceasefire between the two sides is "absolutely achievable".

Mr Millar said the US' "top priority" is trying to reach a ceasefire agreement that will lead to the release of Israeli hostages and allow for "a surge of humanitarian assistance" into Gaza.

He added that Israel's planned Rafah offensive would make it "incredibly difficult" to sustain an increase in humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

The ceasefire proposal agreed to by Hamas today would mark the first pause in fighting since a temporary truce ended in late November.

That week-long pause saw about 105 Hamas-held hostages released from Gaza and 240 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails set free.

Hamas said it was going into negotiations in Cairo with a "positive spirit" in a statement on Friday, adding it was "determined to secure an agreement in a way that fulfils Palestinians' demands".