Truce mediators locked in talks to reach Hamas-Israel agreement over key issues

No sign of breakthrough over ceasefire deal, says official

Palestinians inspect the destruction after overnight Israeli strikes on Rafah. AFP
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Gaza ceasefire mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the US were locked in delicate talks with Hamas and Israeli officials on Wednesday, looking for ways to bridge the gap in the discussions, sources told The National.

In Israel, an official was quoted by Reuters as saying he saw no sign of a breakthrough in the talks taking place in Egypt to reach a truce that would bring about freedom for hostages and prisoners held by Hamas and Israel, respectively.

The sources, however, said the main focus of the negotiations was the “slow and gradual” rate at which Hamas wanted to release the 130 hostages it has, to which Israel is objecting.

Hamas wants to stagger the release over a long period to use them as bargaining chips until its key demands – full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, a permanent ceasefire and the unconditional return home of Palestinians displaced by the war – are met by Israel, the sources said.

Hamas, they said, fears that without guarantees from Qatar, the US and Egypt, Israel would resume military operations in Gaza if the hostages were freed too soon.

Israel has already declared a three-phase proposal approved by Hamas on Monday was unacceptable because some terms had been softened.

CIA director William Burns, who has been acting as chief US negotiator, left Egypt on Wednesday and was in Israel meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about a possible suspension of Israel’s military operation in Gaza's southern city of Rafah on the Egyptian border, the sources said.

White House spokesman John Kirby has said Hamas’s revised proposal to pause the war suggest the remaining gaps can "absolutely be closed".

According to Hamas officials and the sources, the proposal that Hamas approved on Monday included a first phase with a six-week ceasefire, an influx of aid to Gaza, the return of 33 Israeli hostages, alive or dead, and the release by Israel of 30 detained Palestinian children and women for each released Israeli hostage.

Since the only pause in the conflict so far, a week-long ceasefire in November, Hamas has refused to free more Israeli hostages without a promise of a permanent end to the conflict, while Israel has insisted it would discuss only a temporary halt to hostilities.

The Gaza war began when Hamas militants attacked southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 and abducting about 250 others, according to Israeli tallies.

Hamas official Osama Hamdan, speaking to reporters in Beirut on Tuesday, warned if Israel's military aggression continued in Rafah, there would be no truce agreement.

Israel's military said it was conducting a limited operation in Rafah to kill fighters and dismantle infrastructure used by Hamas, which has run Gaza since 2007.

It has ordered civilians there to go to an "expanded humanitarian zone" 20km away.

In Geneva, UN humanitarian office spokesman Jens Laerke said "panic and despair" were gripping the people in Rafah.

The impact of an offensive on Rafah will have disastrous effects for more than 1 million people, Aurelie Godard, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) team leader in Gaza, said on Wednesday.

"Living conditions all over Gaza are already extremely precarious," she added. "They will just get worse for people who are being displaced again and will have to live in makeshift tents with extremely limited access to basic necessities such as water."

Israel reclosed Kerem Abu Salem crossing on its border with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, after opening it briefly, allowing only one fuel lorry to enter the enclave.

Israel had closed the border point on Sunday after a Palestinian shelling attack nearby killed four soldiers.

Updated: May 09, 2024, 6:14 AM