Gaza ceasefire negotiations to resume in Paris next week, sources say

Egypt to send humanitarian aid and fuel for Gaza to Israeli crossing at request of US President Biden

Smoke rises from an Israeli strike amid the ruins of Jabalia in northern Gaza. AFP
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Gaza ceasefire negotiations are to resume next week in Paris, The National has learnt.

Two sources said on Friday that the talks in the French capital would bring together CIA director William Burns, his counterparts in Egyptian and Israeli intelligence, as well as a senior delegation from Qatar.

The last round of negotiations collapsed earlier this month after Israel rejected Hamas’s demands for a full military withdrawal from Gaza, a permanent ceasefire and the staggered release of about 20 hostages over a six-week period.

The US, Egypt and Qatar have been trying to broker another ceasefire in the seven-month-old war since a week-long pause ended on December 1.

The sources, who have direct knowledge of the negotiations, spoke to The National shortly after the Axios news service reported that Mr Burns would meet Mossad director David Barnea and the Prime Minister of Qatar in Paris on Friday to try to revive the truce effort.

The sources said negotiations involving the US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators, along with the Mossad chief, were likely to begin in Paris early next week and move to Cairo later in the week.

Also on Friday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and US President Joe Biden agreed in a telephone conversation to “intensify international efforts to make the negotiations track succeed so as to end the human tragedy experienced by the Palestinian people”, reported the Egyptian leader's office.

According to a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, his war cabinet told the Israeli negotiating team “to continue negotiations for the return of the hostages” after meeting on Wednesday.

News of the renewal of talks broke shortly before the International Court of Justice on Friday ordered Israel to halt its military operations in Gaza's southern Rafah area, which began this month despite international warnings of the likelihood of high civilian casualties among the roughly 1.5 million people living there in crowded conditions.

The talks will be held amid heightened tensions between Egypt and Israel after Israeli forces seized the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing on May 7. Egypt responded by closing its side of the crossing, halting the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Egypt has also placed its forces near the border with Gaza and Israel on high alert and said it intended to join South Africa in its case before the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide.

The US and Israel have urged Egypt to reopen the crossing, but Cairo says the presence of the Israeli military on the Gaza side poses a threat to aid workers and lorry drivers.

However, Egypt on Friday agreed to a request by the US President to deliver humanitarian aid and fuel to Gaza through the Israeli border crossing of Kerem Shalom.

The statement issued by Mr El Sisi's office said the aid and fuel would be handed to the UN at the Israeli crossing and that the process was a temporary measure until a “legal mechanism” is found to operate the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing.

It did not specify the amounts of aid and fuel to be delivered or say how long this new arrangement would continue.

The Gaza war was triggered by a Hamas attack on southern Israel in October that killed about 1,200 people. Fighters also took hostage about 240 people, about 100 of whom were released during the late November truce.

Hamas is now believed to hold about 130 hostages of whom around 30 are believed to have died in captivity.

The Israeli military said on Thursday that the bodies of three hostages seized in the October 7 attack were recovered during operations in northern Gaza.

About 35,800 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's onslaught on Gaza following October 7, with more than 80,000 injured.

Updated: May 24, 2024, 5:34 PM