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Hamas negotiators arrive in Cairo for talks on ceasefire deal with Israel amid boiling tensions

Some reports indicate that there has been some progress in negotiating a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the latter demanding a complete withdrawal of troops. However, an Israeli official has downplayed such reports, saying Israel will not end the war until Hamas is eliminated.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Cairo Published on: May 04, 2024 17:59 IST
Israel Hamas war, palestinians killed, ceasefire
Image Source : AP Palestinians mourn their relatives killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on Saturday.

Cairo: In a positive sign towards a respite in the nearly seven-month war in Gaza, Hamas negotiators have arrived in Cairo on Saturday for intensified talks on a possible Gaza truce that would see the return to Israel of some hostages, while the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was also present at the negotiations for indirect diplomacy, according to a Hamas official. "The results today will be different. We have reached an agreement over many points, and a few points remain," one Egyptian security source told Reuters.

A Palestinian official with knowledge of the mediation efforts sounded cautious optimism. "Things look better this time but whether an agreement is on hand would depend on whether Israel has offered what it takes for that to happen," said the official. The Hamas delegation arrived from the Palestinian Islamist movement's headquarters in Qatar, which, along with Egypt, has tried to mediate a follow-up to a brief November ceasefire.

The United States, while formally shunning Hamas, has called on it to enter a "generous" deal. The talks have stumbled, however, over Hamas' long-standing demand for a commitment to end the almost seven-month-old offensive by Israel, which insists that after any truce it would resume operations designed to disarm and dismantle the faction.

A possible breakthrough in ceasefire talks

Signalling a possible breakthrough, Hamas said on Friday it would come to Cairo in a "positive spirit" after studying the latest proposal for a deal, little of which has been made public. Israel has previously said it was open to the new terms. This came as Egypt made a renewed push to revive negotiations last month amid growing international alarm over the prospect of an Israeli assault against Hamas in Rafah in southern Gaza, where more than 1 million Palestinians have taken shelter near the border with Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

Egyptian sources said Burns, the director of the CIA, arrived in Cairo on Friday. He has been involved in previous rounds of truce talks and Washington has signalled there may be progress this time. Egyptian and American mediators have reported signs of compromise in recent days but chances for a ceasefire deal remain in limbo as it is to be seen whether Israel will accept an end to the war without reaching its stated goal of destroying Hamas.

Egyptian media reported that a consensus has been reached over many of the disputed points but did not elaborate. Hamas has called for a complete end to the war and the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Gaza, something Israel has refused to accept in the past. Egypt has proposed a new deal for an immediate, six-week ceasefire and partial release of Israeli hostages.

Gershon Baskin, director for the Middle East at the International Communities Organisation, said it appears that Hamas has agreed to the framework that Egypt proposed and Israel has already accepted. He said the negotiators are now hammering out the details — and if Israel sends its top negotiators to Cairo after the Sabbath ends on Saturday evening, that would signify it's very serious.

Israel downplays progress in ceasefire talks

However, a senior Israeli official played down the prospects for an end to the war. The official told The Associated Press that Israel will not agree in any circumstance to end the war as part of a deal to release hostages. This comes as Israeli strikes killed at least six people in Rafah and the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza.

In the last 24 hours, the bodies of 32 people killed by Israeli strikes have been brought to local hospitals, Gaza's health ministry said Saturday. In related developments this week, Israel briefed Biden administration officials on plans to evacuate civilians ahead of the Rafah operation, according to US officials familiar with the talks.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has warned that hundreds of thousands would be “at imminent risk of death” if Israel moves forward into the densely packed city, which is also a critical entry point for humanitarian aid. The US director of the UN World Food Program, Cindy McCain, said citizens in the northern part of Gaza have plunged into famine.

Israel recently opened new crossings for aid into northern Gaza, but on Wednesday, Israeli settlers blocked the first convoy before it crossed into the besieged enclave. Once inside Gaza, the convoy was commandeered by Hamas militants, before UN officials reclaimed it.

(with inputs from agencies)

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