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'Last chance' for hostage deal before launch of Rafah offensive: Israel tells Egyptian delegation

Tel Aviv: Amid rising tensions in West Asia and fears of the ongoing conflict between the Israeli forces and Hamas spreading to Rafah, which is home to several refugee camps; Israel issued a stern warning, saying that it was giving the ongoing negotiations to secure a hostage deal a 'last chance' before launching a ground offensive in the 'land port' between Gaza and Egypt, the Times of Israel reported.
Discussions between Israeli officials and a high-level Egyptian delegation about the country's feared and anticipated offensive in Rafah and efforts to reach a hostage agreement with Hamas came to an end on Friday.
Israel warned that this was the "last chance" for a truce agreement before Israel launched its long-planned assault, according to the Jewish daily.
The negotiations were "very good, focused, held in good spirits and progressed in all parameters," a senior Israeli official said, the Times of Israel reported.
Israel-based Ynet News quoted an official, who was a part of the discussions with the Egyptian delegation, as saying that "in the background, there are very serious intentions from Israel to move ahead in Rafah", and the Egyptians appeared to be prepared to exert pressure on Hamas to reach a settlement.
The Egyptian delegation is currently in Israel, trying to move forward with long-stalled talks to free hostages and establish a ceasefire in Gaza, as per CNN.
Egypt is worried about the ramifications of a full-scale Israeli offensive in Rafah, near its border, where, in recent months, about a million Palestinians have fled and sought sanctuary.
Disagreements over fundamental objectives have prevented Hamas and Israel from coming to an agreement, even after months of negotiations facilitated by Qatar and Egypt, according to the report.
Earlier, on March 15, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said he had approved the military's plan for an operation in Rafah, where most of Gaza's population, fleeing the ongoing conflict, has sought refuge.
"Victory [over Hamas] requires entering Rafah and eliminating the terrorist battalions there. This will happen. There is a date," Netanyahu said in a video statement, later, while not revealing the timing of the planned operation.
The intention to carry out a significant offensive in Rafah has run into strong international resistance, especially from the US. A recent video conference between American and Israeli officials to ward off the possibility of an IDF ground operation in Rafah was reportedly characterised by strained relations and allegations.
Washington voiced doubts over Israel's intentions to conduct operations in the southernmost city of Gaza, according to The Times of Israel.
Netanyahu stated that there could be no victory without an operation in the city.
"We are constantly working to achieve our goal," the Israeli PM said, adding, "primarily releasing all of our hostages and achieving total victory over Hamas".

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