Hamas and Israeli delegates leave Egypt as Gaza truce deadlock continues

CIA director William Burns, the US chief negotiator, also departs along with Qatari mediators

CIA director William Burns told Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that a deal with Hamas was still possible, Israeli media reported. Getty Images
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The Hamas and Israeli delegations involved in the Gaza truce negotiations left Egypt on Thursday, signalling the failure of efforts by mediators from the US, Egypt and Qatar to urge the warring parties to agree on a deal to pause the war.

Sources briefed on the negotiations said CIA director William Burns, the US chief negotiator, also left Egypt on Thursday along with Qatari mediators.

In a statement, Hamas said Israel's military operations in the southern Gaza city of Rafah and this week's takeover of the Palestinian side of the border crossing there with Egypt were “aimed at cutting off the path of the mediators, escalating the aggression and the genocide war”.

“We in Hamas would like to reassert our commitment and adherence to our position of accepting the proposals presented by the mediators,” the statement said.

Hamas said its negotiators flew back to Doha, Qatar, the long-time home of the group's political leadership.

Mr Burns returned to Cairo late on Wednesday to rejoin the Gaza ceasefire negotiations, after a brief visit to Israel, as the negotiators squabbled over key details of the proposed agreement revealed to The National.

Before he left Egypt, Mr Burns held a lengthy discussion with Egyptian officials to relay the Israeli position on the talks, sources told The National on Thursday morning.

He met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, telling him that a deal with Hamas was still possible, according to Israeli media reports.

As in previous rounds of negotiations held over months, no statement was issued on behalf of the participants but the sources said Hamas and Israel were at odds over the frequency and number of hostages the Palestinian group is expected to release if a deal is reached.

Hamas is adamant it would stagger the release of up to 20 hostages still held in Gaza over the first 42 days of the ceasefire, with one hostage released at a time, they said.

Israel has countered by insisting that at least 33 should be freed in the first phase of the proposed deal.

All 33 must be living hostages, Israel has insisted, according to the sources.

Hamas also wants to ensure a “permanent ceasefire” is added to any agreement, the sources said.

On Monday, the militant group said it had accepted a ceasefire proposal following months of talks brokered by Egypt, the US and Qatar.

It released details of the proposal: a three-phase agreement that would lead to a period of “sustained calm”, a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and a reconstruction plan for the enclave.

The main focus of the negotiations in Egypt has been the “slow and gradual” rate at which Hamas wanted to release the 130 hostages, to which Israel is objecting.

More than 30 of those hostages are believed to have been killed in captivity, mostly by Israeli bombing or lack of life-saving medications.

Hamas's insistence to stagger the release over a long period is designed to use the hostages as bargaining chips until its demands – full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, a permanent ceasefire and the unconditional return home of Palestinians displaced by the war – are met.

The militant group fears that without strong guarantees from Qatar, the US and Egypt, Israel would resume military operations in Gaza if the hostages were released too soon.

During Wednesday's talks in Israel, also attended by Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, Mossad chief David Barnea and Shin Bet director Ronen Bar, the CIA chief said Israel should see an end to the war as a “comma” and “not a full stop”, the country's Channel 12 reported.

Israeli officials claimed the Hamas proposals, received on Monday night, crossed “every red line”.

However, the sources suggested some progress has been made – with Israel agreeing to release Palestinian prisoners serving life sentences in its jails.

Which prisoners will be freed has yet to be negotiated, they said.

The White House has also expressed optimism a deal can be reached.

“They should be able to close the remaining gaps and we're going to do everything we can to support that process and achieve that,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller also said the US is working “very hard” to get a deal over the line but denied claims that Hamas had accepted a deal.

“Hamas did not accept the ceasefire proposal. Hamas responded, and in their response made several suggestions. It’s not the same as accepting,” he said.

The Gaza war was triggered by a deadly attack in October on southern Israel by Hamas, whose fighters killed about 1,200 people and held another 240 hostage.

During a week-long pause in late November, Hamas released about 100 hostages.

The Israeli response has to date killed more than 34,900 Palestinians and wounded twice as many.

More than 80 per cent of the coastal enclave's 2.3 million residents have been displaced, with about 1.5 million taking refuge in Rafah alone.

Updated: May 09, 2024, 6:06 PM