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Jerusalem: The Israeli military on Wednesday said it had uncovered a major Hamas command center in the heart of Gaza City, inflicting what it described as a serious blow to the Islamic militant group as pressure grows on Israel to scale back its devastating military offensive in the coastal enclave.

The army said it had exposed the center of a vast underground network used by Hamas to move weapons, militants and supplies throughout the Gaza Strip. Israel has said destroying the tunnels is a major objective of the offensive.

The announcement came as Hamas’ top leader arrived in Egypt for talks aimed at brokering a temporary cease-fire and a new deal for Hamas to swap Israeli hostages for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Israeli leaders have vowed to press ahead with the two-month-old offensive, launched in response to a bloody cross-border attack by Hamas in October that killed some 1,200 people and saw 240 others taken hostage.

Hamas militants have put up stiff resistance lately against Israeli ground troops, and its forces appear to remain largely intact in southern Gaza. It also continues to fire rockets into Israel every day.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has continued to support Israel’s right to defend itself while also urging greater effort to protect Gaza’s civilians.

Hamas’ top leader, Ismail Haniyeh, traveled to Cairo for talks on the war, part of a flurry of diplomacy. In recent days, top Israeli, American and Qatari officials have also held cease-fire talks.

“These are very serious discussions and negotiations, and we hope that they lead somewhere,” the White House’s national security spokesman, John Kirby, said aboard Air Force One while traveling with President Joe Biden to Wisconsin.

Biden, however, indicated a deal was still a ways off. “There’s no expectation at this point, but we are pushing,” he said. Asked about the rising death toll in Gaza, Biden said: It’s tragic.”

Hamas says no more hostages will be released until the war ends. It is insisting on the release of large numbers of Palestinian prisoners, including high-level militants convicted in deadly attacks, for remaining captives.

Image courtesy of WROC TV

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