JERUSALEM (NEWSnet/AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden indicated a cease-fire in Gaza could happen soon, saying that Israel has agreed to pause its offensive during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan if a deal is reached to release some hostages held by Hamas.

But both Israel and Hamas downplayed on Tuesday the idea that a breakthrough was imminent.

In the wake of Hamas' attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, Israel’s air, sea and ground campaign in Gaza has killed tens of thousands of people, obliterated large swaths of the urban landscape, displaced 80% of the battered enclave’s population and sparked concerns that a famine could be imminent, according to the United Nations.

Now, the prospect of an invasion of Rafah has prompted global alarm over the fate of civilians trapped there.

Talks to pause the fighting have gained momentum recently and were underway Tuesday.

Negotiators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar have been working to broker a cease-fire that would see Hamas free some of the dozens of hostages it holds in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners, a six-week halt in fighting and an increase in aid deliveries to Gaza.

The start of Ramadan, which is expected to be around March 10, is seen as an unofficial deadline for a deal. The month is a time of heightened religious observance and dawn-to-dusk fasting for hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world. Israeli-Palestinian tensions have flared in the past during the holy month.

“Ramadan’s coming up and there has been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out,” Biden said in an appearance on NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers” that was filmed Monday.

In separate comments the same day, Biden said that he hoped a cease-fire deal could take effect by next week.

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