US-led efforts to secure a Gaza ceasefire gain momentum with flurry of diplomacy

Mediators to put pressure on Hamas to show flexibility on latest proposals, sources say

A Palestinian girl fills water for her family in Al Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza. EPA
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Top mediators from the US, Egypt and Qatar are meeting in Doha on Wednesday, and a Palestinian delegation has arrived in Cairo, sources told The National, as US-led efforts to broker a Gaza ceasefire and a prisoner and hostage swap deal gains momentum.

They said CIA director William Burns and his Egyptian counterpart Abbas Kamel were due in Doha later in the day, where they will meet Qatar’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdurrahman Al Thani, to discuss implementing the latest proposals to end the Gaza war.

While in Doha, the chief Egyptian and Qatari mediators will be contacting Hamas leaders based in Qatar, primarily to put pressure on them to show flexibility on the latest Gaza ceasefire proposals announced by US President Joe Biden on May 31, the sources confirmed.

A delegation representing two of Hamas’s closest allies – the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – has meanwhile arrived in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials on the latest proposals, according to the sources, which have first-hand knowledge of the process.

“Meetings with the Palestinian delegation in Cairo aim to persuade them to put pressure on Hamas to show flexibility over President Biden’s proposals,” said one of the sources.

Hamas has yet to respond to the latest proposals. Officials from the militant group say they need to have a clear commitment from Israel to a permanent ceasefire and full withdrawal from Gaza.

Also due in Cairo on Wednesday is Brett McGurk, the US National Security Council’s co-ordinator on the Middle East and North Africa, who will discuss with Egyptian officials proposals for the running of the Palestinian side of Gaza’s border crossing with Egypt, as well as the latest proposals for a Gaza ceasefire.

Israel captured the Gaza end of the crossing on May 7 and later said that it had done so to prevent money and weapons from being smuggled into Gaza through underground tunnels.

Egypt has categorically denied the charges and insisted that it would not open its end of the crossing until Israel withdrew its forces from the other end, as well as a corridor that runs the length of its border with Gaza.

The latest proposals to end the Gaza war, which reaches the eight-month mark later this week, involve a “complete ceasefire” and an increase in aid to Gaza, with the release of some of the remaining Israeli hostages held by Hamas in the first, six-week phase.

The second phase proposes a “permanent end to hostilities” and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, with the rest of the hostages released, while the final phase brings in the reconstruction of Gaza and the return of the remaining hostages to their families.

The release of the hostages held by Hamas will be in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli jails. No precise figure has been announced, but they are expected to be in the low thousands.

Israel believes that more than a third of the remaining Gaza hostages who are widely believed to number around 130 are dead, a government tally showed on Tuesday.

On Monday, the US said it was seeking support from the UN Security Council for the proposed ceasefire and sent a draft resolution stressing “the importance of the parties adhering to the terms of the deal once agreed, with the aim of bringing about a permanent cessation of hostilities,” according to a Reuters report.

The sources also said that a top Israeli delegation made up of the Mossad, its domestic security sister, and the army was expected in Cairo later this week.

The delegation was due to bring Israel's response to a joint plan by the Palestinian Authority and Egypt for the Rafah border crossing and the technical details of the redeployment of Israeli forces away from built-up areas in the first phase of President Biden’s plan.

The proposal, which Mr Biden described as an “Israeli proposal”, has widened the rift among members of Israel's war cabinet as it waits for a Hamas response.

Centrist politicians Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot have spent recent weeks amplifying calls for elections and threats to abandon the administration, accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of not setting clear objectives for the war and abandoning Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

Far-right ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich have threatened to bring down the government if Mr Netanyahu pursues anything other than a full-throttle war effort in Gaza, despite mounting international concern over the humanitarian toll.

There is also growing uncertainty among the Israeli public that total victory over Hamas is possible.

The Gaza war was triggered by an attack by Hamas in south Israel in October that left 1,200 dead. The attack drew a devastating Israeli response that has to date killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, displaced most of the enclave’s 2.3 million residents and laid to waste large swathes of the built-up areas.

The US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators have been trying without success to broker a ceasefire since a week-long truce ended on December 1.

Updated: June 05, 2024, 6:15 PM