Key mediators urge Hamas and Israel to finalise ceasefire deal as Cairo talks wrap up

Egypt, Israel and the US discussed the reopening of the Rafah border crossing

A boy wounded in an Israeli strike on a residential building in Bureij refugee camp is carried into Al Aqsa Martyrs hospital, in central Gaza, late on Sunday. AP
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Egypt, Qatar and the US called on Hamas and Israel to finalise a ceasefire agreement based on principles outlined by President Joe Biden, as Cairo hosted talks on Sunday. The UAE also voiced support for the agreement.

A joint statement by Egypt, Qatar and the US emphasised the importance of reaching a deal that would bring immediate relief to the people of Gaza and the hostages and their families.

Separately, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, called the US proposals a potential opportunity to halt the escalation, release detainees and hostages and "alleviate the catastrophic and dangerous situation that civilians are experiencing in Gaza".

He stressed the importance of peace negotiations and the two-state solution for achieving a comprehensive resolution to the conflict.

But as the talks wrapped up, a deal appeared out of reach, with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant insisting that Israel's war aims – the defeat of Hamas – would not change, rejecting a widely called for permanent truce.

This was despite Mr Biden announcing an Israeli truce plan on Friday, which White House Spokesman John Kirby said the US had “every expectation” that Israel would stand by, with Hamas's agreement.

Egypt also released a statement at the end of the Cairo talks calling for “the necessity of an Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, as a precondition for resuming its operation”.

Mr Biden's proposal offered a road map for a permanent ceasefire and an end to the war that has claimed the lives of more than 36,400 Gazans and injured more than 82,400 since Israel launched its assault on the Gaza Strip. The offensive was in retaliation to Hamas's deadly attacks on Israel on October 7 that killed about 1,200.

The proposal, which included many elements from previous rounds of talks that ultimately failed to achieve peace, outlined a three-stage process to end the continuing conflict in Gaza.

“As mediators in the ongoing discussions to secure a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of hostages and detainees, the United States, Egypt, and Qatar jointly call on both Hamas and Israel to finalise the agreement embodying the principles outlined by President Biden,” said the statement.

“These principles brought the demands of all parties together in a deal that serves multiple interests and will bring immediate relief both to the long-suffering people of Gaza as well as the long-suffering hostages and their families,” it added.

“This deal offers a road map for a permanent ceasefire and ending the crisis.”

The next round of talks will include representatives from the US, Israel and Egypt and the agenda reportedly focuses on the truce and the reopening of the Rafah border crossing, which has been closed since early May when Israel seized control of the Palestinian side.

“Egypt has reiterated to all parties its unwavering stance of not opening the Rafah crossing as long as Israel maintains control over the Palestinian side,” an unnamed government official was quoted as saying by state television channel Al Qahera News on Saturday.

The potential reopening of the Rafah crossing would provide the besieged Gaza Strip with another point of entry for much-needed aid supplies as Israeli strikes on the southern city intensified over the past week.

The ceasefire proposal presented by the US president would address the delivery of aid, as well as an end to hostilities.

Ceasefire plan

The first phase of the plan involves a six-week ceasefire, during which the Israeli military would withdraw from populated areas of Gaza, and a “surge” of humanitarian aid would be delivered to the enclave, with “600 trucks carrying aid into Gaza every single day,” Mr Biden said on Friday.

This phase would also include an exchange of some Israeli hostages for Palestinian detainees.

The second phase would see the return of all remaining living hostages, including male soldiers, which, if successfully conducted would see the ceasefire becoming a permanent “cessation of hostilities”.

The third and final phase of the proposal would involve the return of the remains of any deceased Israeli hostages and the implementation of a “major reconstruction plan” with US and international assistance to rebuild homes, schools and hospitals in Gaza.

Mr Biden as well as other world leaders urged Israel and Hamas to abide by the ceasefire proposal.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron urged Hamas to accept the deal, stating that an end to the fighting could lead to permanent peace if all parties are prepared to take the right steps.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also welcomed President Biden's proposal and encouraged all parties to seize the opportunity for a ceasefire while securing the release of hostages, unhindered humanitarian access, and ultimately a durable peace in the Middle East.

Hamas, for its part, on Saturday night, said it viewed the proposal as “positive”.

The group's leadership expressed willingness to consider the ideas put forward by Mr Biden but emphasised the need for an agreement that Israel would abide by.

Despite positivity from the international community and Hamas, the proposed deal faces opposition from elements within Israeli politics.

Two far-right Israeli ministers have threatened to quit the government if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government moves the deal forward.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir called the proposal “a victory for terrorism and a security risk to the state of Israel”, while Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said he did not wish to remain part of a government that agrees to the proposed deal.

Both ministers demanded the war continue until Hamas is destroyed and all hostages are returned.

Mr Netanyahu's political adviser, Ofir Falk, was quoted by local media as saying that the deal on the table “is not a good deal, but we really want the abductees to be released”.

He added however that “there are still many details that need to be worked on”, and that “there will not be a permanent ceasefire until all our goals are met. Israel's conditions have not changed”.

The continuing conflict has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza Strip where access to basic necessities and medical care is scarce, and famine has taken hold.

Updated: June 03, 2024, 7:02 AM