Distrust between Hamas and Israel hindering truce efforts, says Qatar

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant says his country plans to broaden its military operation in Rafah

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is on a Middle East tour. Reuters
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A senior Qatari official said distrust between Hamas and Israel was hindering talkss to reach a new ceasefire agreement, after months of efforts by the Gulf state, alongside Egypt and the US, to broker a pause in the Gaza war failed this month.

Negotiations broke down when Israel rejected the some of the demands made by Hamas.

“We are trying to get the parties together. The more you sit on the table, the closer you get [to a deal] … when there is a will there is a way, what is missing here is the will,” Mohammed bin Abdulaziz, a Qatari Minister of State and a lead negotiator, told a security conference in Doha on Monday.

Egypt had said it was prepared to continue its mediation in the Gaza war even after the Israeli military seized control of the Palestinian side of its land border crossing with Gaza on May 7.

Cairo, however, has refused to co-operate over the Rafah crossing, telling a delegation from the Mossad spy agency last week that the border point would remain closed as long as Israel controlled the Palestinian side.

On Monday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the cessation of aid deliveries through the Rafah crossing was connected to the threat posed to humanitarian work by Israel's military operations in the area.

"Now there is a military presence on the outskirts of the Rafah crossing and military operations that put aid convoys and truck drivers in danger," Mr Shoukry said.

Sources told The National that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was due to arrive in Cairo on Monday for discussions with Egypt's leaders on the resumption of mediation on a Gaza war ceasefire and Israel's ground offensive in the enclave's southern city of Rafah.

They said the US has been trying to persuade Egypt to reopen the crossing, which Mr Sullivan plans to support when he meets Egyptian officials.

Mr Sullivan is on a Middle East tour that has already taken him to Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Israel has ignored pleas by Cairo, the US and others not to launch a ground operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, close to the Egyptian border.

On Monday, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told Mr Sullivan that his country planned to broaden its military operation in Rafah, something that US President Joe Biden has repeatedly warned against.

Israel describes Rafah as the last stronghold of Hamas, whose governing and combat capabilities it has been trying to dismantle during the war.

“We are committed to broadening the ground operation in Rafah to the end of dismantling Hamas and recovering the hostages,” a statement from Mr Gallant's office quoted him as telling Mr Sullivan.

Egypt, bound by a 1979 peace treaty with Israel, has strongly condemned both the seizure of the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing and Israel's ground offensive on the city, saying Israel’s actions endangered its national security.

Last week, it said it was adding its voice to South Africa's in support of its case at the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide, handing its eastern neighbour its strongest public rebuke since the war began in October.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said on Monday that it estimated 810,000 people had fled Rafah since Israel began its ground offensive there on May 6.

Israel also says its forces in Rafah have discovered dozens of tunnels from Egypt's peninsula, a claim that Cairo has repeatedly denied in the past.

While in Israel on Sunday, Mr Sullivan briefed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the “potential” of a normalisation deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, according to the White House.

He also called on the Israeli leader to link the military operation against Hamas in Gaza with a “political strategy” for the future of the Palestinian enclave, it said in a readout of the talks.

The top US diplomat met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Dharan on Saturday, before flying directly to Israel for talks with Mr Netanyahu and other key officials.

“Mr Sullivan briefed Prime Minister Netanyahu and his team on these meetings and the potential that may now be available for Israel, as well as the Palestinian people,” the White House said.

Saudi state media reported on Sunday that Mr Sullivan and Prince Mohammed, the country's de facto ruler, discussed a “semi-final” version of a deal expected to beef up security ties between their two countries.

That deal is considered a major part of Washington's efforts to bring Riyadh around to a so-called mega-deal recognising Israel for the first time – efforts complicated by the continuing war in the Gaza Strip.

The war was triggered by a Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 that killed about 1,200 people.

The attack drew a devastating Israeli military response in which more than 35,000 Palestinians, the majority women and children, and made most of the enclave’s 2.3 million residents displaced. Large areas of built-up areas have been reduced to rubble.

The war has created a massive humanitarian crisis that has been exacerbated by the closure of the Rafah crossing, the main transit point for relief aid to Gaza.

While in Israel, Mr Sullivan also repeated President Joe Biden's “long-standing position on Rafah”, the White House said.

The Biden administration has called on Israel to avoid such an operation and recently halted a shipment of bombs to its long-standing ally due to concerns they might be used in Rafah.

– With additional reporting from AFP

Updated: May 20, 2024, 6:01 PM