Gaza truce talks to resume in Cairo empowered by US pressure for a ceasefire

Washington asked the Israeli PM to urge his negotiators towards a deal

Palestine supporters protest the current conflict in Gaza on Al-Quds Day in New York City. EPA
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CIA Director William Burns and mediators from Egypt and Qatar are set to resume Gaza truce talks in Cairo on Sunday, empowered by the recent US push for a ceasefire in the Palestinian territory after six months of Israeli bombing.

Sources close to the negotiations told The National that the mediators will meet the Israeli Mossad chief David Barnea to discuss a pause to the Israeli war that has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians since the war broke out on October 7 following the Hamas deadly attacks on Israel.

“The main goal, and this is a US goal now, is to reach a six-week ceasefire,” said a Palestinian political source.

Hamas confirmed in a statement that a delegation headed by senior official Khalil Al Hayya will head to Cairo on Sunday for ceasefire talks in response to Egypt's invitation.

It added that it is demanding "a full cessation of the aggression, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, the return of the displaced people and a serious prisoner exchange deal".

Earlier rounds of talks failed to reach an agreement as Israel insists that a ceasefire be linked to the release of all remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza, while the militant group Hamas says that the hostages shall be released in phases and that any pause should lead to a permanent ceasefire.

But the next round comes amid tensions between the US and its ally Israel, fuelled by the killing of foreign aid workers in Gaza in an Israeli air strike this week.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that US policy will change towards Gaza unless Israel immediately takes steps to address the humanitarian crisis there.

The comments mark the first meaningful shift in rhetoric from the US administration since October 7.

Empowering the negotiators

In addition to calling for change, Mr Biden also reiterated demands for an immediate ceasefire but did not directly link it to the release of hostages by Hamas, a subtle but important difference.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Mr Biden told Mr Netanyahu to empower his negotiators in Cairo so that a deal can be reached as soon as possible.

“The American President is encouraging the Israeli Prime Minister to move towards giving a positive answer regarding the truce deal, and there are many reasons for that,” said the Palestinian source.

“The US image has been damaged for supporting Israel blindly. The administration also feels that a truce deal would help to absorb or delay any Iranian response to the Israeli strike in Damascus.”

Monday’s strike levelled the residence of the Iranian ambassador, which was also used as the consulate. It killed at least 14 people, including seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders and operatives, among them the head of the Quds Force in Lebanon and Syria, Mohammad Reza Zahedi.

While Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has vowed to retaliate and “punish” Israel over the strike, the US clarified that it had no role in the attack.

Sources close to Iran's allies in the region said the US fears the possibility of the collapse of an “announced truce” with Iran that has been in place in Iraq since last February.

Last month, Iraqi militias backed by Iran halted their attacks against US forces in the region in the context of the truce and the last direct attack on US forces in Iraq and Syria was on February 4.

Indirect talks between the US and Iran in recent weeks have attempted to build on that truce to expand it across conflict-hit areas of the Middle East.

Updated: April 07, 2024, 3:29 AM