Negotiations under way in Egypt to secure new ceasefire deal in Gaza

Delegations from Hamas and Qatar arrived on Saturday with Israeli representatives expected tomorrow

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli air strike in Deir Al Balah, Gaza Strip, on April 30, 2024. AP
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Negotiations to reach a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza are under way in Egypt, sources close to the process have told The National, with Israel participating remotely through secure phone lines, they said.

An Israeli delegation, led by Mossad chief David Barnea, is due to arrive in Egypt tomorrow.

The mediators, according to the sources, have already rejected Hamas’s demand for Russia, China and Turkey to be the guarantors of a ceasefire deal, offering themselves instead.

The main focus of the negotiations continue to be Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, a permanent ceasefire and the release of high-profile Palestinian prisoners, according to the sources.

A Hamas delegation led by Khalil Al Hayah arrived in Cairo on Saturday to resume the talks, after months of negotiations failed to produce a breakthrough, the sources said.

Zahed Gabreen, a senior group official and a confidante of Yahya Sinwar, is also in the delegation.

Egyptian state-linked Al Qahera News Television quoted a high-ranking source as saying that "there is significant progress in the negotiations" between the Palestinian militant group and Israel, and that the Egyptian mediators have "reached an agreed-upon formula on most points of contention."

A Qatari delegation has also arrived to Cairo on Saturday to take part in the negotiations, sources said.

Hamas said late on Friday its delegates were travelling to Cairo in a “positive spirit” after studying the latest truce proposal from Israel.

“We are determined to secure an agreement in a way that fulfils Palestinians' demands,” the group said in a statement.

CIA Director William Burns arrived in Cairo on Friday for meetings with fellow mediators, according to the sources and the US news website Axios.

Egypt, along with Qatar and the US, has been leading mediation efforts between Israel and Hamas to broker a truce in the war which began on October 7.

Hamas's demand for a lasting ceasefire and a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's repeated threats to press ahead with his plans to attack Rafah, have largely stalled the talks.

Sources close to the negotiations told The National that Egypt has asked the US and Israel for more time to persuade Hamas to show more flexibility on the latest proposals to pause the war.

The latest proposals envisage an initial limited truce with a staged hostages and prisoners swap. Israel has also reportedly agreed to a “second phase” of the truce that includes a “period of sustained calm” of up to a year.

Hamas would release a number of hostages it holds, including women and elderly, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons.

The Palestinian group is believed to still hold around 100 Israelis in Gaza, as well as the bodies of around 30 others who died in captivity.

Israel launched its campaign in Gaza vowing to destroy Hamas after the group’s October 7 attack on southern Israel which killed more than 1200 Israelis.

Israel's war on Gaza has driven around 80 per cent of the city's 2.3 million population from their homes and caused vast destruction in several towns and cities. The death toll in Gaza has soared to more than 34,500 people, according to local health officials.

Rafah invasion

Mr Netanyahu has vowed to carry out a military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah despite warnings from US President Joe Biden and other western leaders that doing so would result in more civilian deaths and worsen an already dire humanitarian crisis.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday reiterated Washington's objections to the long-threatened Rafah offensive, saying Israel has not presented a plan to protect the civilians sheltering there.

“Absent such a plan, we can't support a major military operation going into Rafah because the damage it would do is beyond what's acceptable,” he said.

The United Nations humanitarian aid agency said hundreds of thousands of people would be “at imminent risk of death” if Israel carries out a military assault in Rafah.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on Friday that an incursion into the city could have dire implications.

“WHO is deeply concerned that a full-scale military operation in Rafah, Gaza, could lead to a bloodbath, and further weaken an already broken health system,” Mr Tedros said on X, formerly Twitter.

The border city is a critical entry point for humanitarian aid and is home to around 1.5 million displaced Palestinians, many in densely packed tent camps.

Mr Netanyahu said last week that Israeli forces would enter Rafah, which Israel says is Hamas’s last stronghold, regardless of whether a truce-for-hostages deal is struck.

The UN World Food Programme chief, Cindy McCain, said in an interview with NBC News on Friday that Northern Gaza is experiencing “full-blown famine.”

Updated: May 04, 2024, 7:39 PM