Senior Hamas leaders in Cairo for Gaza truce talks as negotiations enter final stage

Ismail Haniyeh leads delegation to discuss 'day after war' scenarios for Palestinian enclave

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh meets Iran's Foreign Minister before heading to Egypt for talks

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh meets Iran's Foreign Minister before heading to Egypt for talks
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

Hamas's political leaders were scheduled to meet Egyptian officials in Cairo on Wednesday to discuss prospects of a truce in Gaza and the political and security status of the enclave after the war.

Egyptian officials said the talks between Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who is accompanied by several officials from the Gaza-based militant group, would be primarily focused on what have become known as “day after” scenarios where hostilities between Israel and Hamas have ceased.

The talks in Cairo, said the Egyptian officials, are on a separate but related track from negotiations to reach a humanitarian truce and another hostage and prisoner swap.

Those talks – mediated by the US, Qatar and Egypt – are in their final stages and could reach fruition if compromises are reached on several outstanding issues, according to the officials, who have direct knowledge of the process.

Hamas, said the officials, was proposing the release of about 50 hostages, including serving members of the Israeli military, in exchange for 300 Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons.

The timing of the releases would be staggered and their continuation will depend upon both sides observing the terms of the deal, they said.

Differences that still need to be ironed out include the duration of a ceasefire, with Israel offering a temporary but renewable truce, while Hamas is insisting on a permanent ceasefire and full withdrawal of Israeli forces from the tiny coastal enclave, said the officials.

Israel also wants to create at least four buffer zones inside the strip to deny Hamas and other militants direct access to its territory, said the officials.

Israel also has reservations about some of the high-profile members of Hamas and the mainstream Fatah faction that the militant group wants released from Israeli prisons.

The negotiations on both tracks are proceeding as the UN Security Council was set to vote later on Wednesday on a resolution calling for a pause in the conflict. The US, Israel's closest ally and aid benefactor, vetoed a previous ceasefire resolution in the council, leading to condemnation by Palestinian and humanitarian groups.

The war in Gaza began when Hamas fighters rampaged in southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages.

The attack, the deadliest in Israel's history, drew a harsh response from Israel, whose bombardment and ground operations in Gaza have to date killed nearly 20,000 Palestinians, displaced 1.9 million of the strip's 2.3 million residents and laid to waste many built-up areas across the territory.

During a week-long truce that ended on December 1, a total of 240 Palestinians were released from Israeli jails in exchange for 80 hostages freed by Hamas. The truce was mediated by the US, Qatar and Egypt.

Israel's leaders are now facing growing calls to secure the release of the remainder of the Hamas-held hostages and on Tuesday signaled its willingness to return to the negotiating table with Hamas.

Israeli President Issac Herzog said his country was “ready for another humanitarian pause and additional humanitarian aid in order to enable the release of hostages.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had recently sent his spy chief on two trips to Europe in an effort to “free our hostages”.

US news site Axios reported on Monday that David Barnea, head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, met with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and CIA director William Burns in Europe to discuss a deal to free hostages.

In Cairo, the officials said Mr Haniyeh and his delegates were partially in Cairo to ensure they are not left out of “day after” scenarios being discussed among the US, Qatar, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and, indirectly, Hamas leaders residing in Gaza and closely associated with the group's military wing.

Proposals floated for post-hostilities Gaza include a demilitarised Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. They also include legislative and presidential elections and subsequently empowering the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to run both areas.

A multinational force in which Jordan and Egypt are envisioned to play a leading role is also proposed for deployment in Gaza for a limited period following Israel's withdrawal.

Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel. It borders both Israel and Gaza. Jordan followed in Egypt's footsteps and signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

Updated: December 21, 2023, 6:30 AM