Hamas presses on with Gaza truce talks without Israel

March 5, 2024 by AAP
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Hamas and Egyptian mediators are pressing on with talks in Cairo on securing a ceasefire in Gaza, despite Israel’s decision not to send a delegation, as Washington pressed again for a truce, the release of hostages and a plan to alleviate the humanitarian catastrophe.

Palestinians wave Hamas flags outside the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the last Friday of Ramadan, April 29, 2022.                                        Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.

The ceasefire talks, which began on Sunday, are billed as a final hurdle on the way to securing the first extended ceasefire of the five-month-old war, in time for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins on Sunday.

Israel has declined to comment publicly on the Cairo talks. A source told Reuters it was staying away because Hamas had refused to provide a list of hostages taken on October 7 who are still alive, information that the Palestinian militants who control Gaza say they will provide only once they have agreed on terms.

“Talks in Cairo continue for the second day, regardless of whether the occupation’s delegation is present in Egypt,” a Hamas official told Reuters.

Two Egyptian security sources said mediators were in touch with the Israelis, allowing negotiations to continue despite their absence.

A Palestinian source close to the talks said the discussions remained “uneasy”, with Israel sticking to its demand for only a temporary truce to free hostages, while Hamas was seeking assurances that the war would not start up again.

Officials from Hamas, Egypt and Qatar began a second round of talks for the day late on Monday, a Hamas source said.

In Washington, US President Joe Biden’s administration said a temporary ceasefire was essential to a hostage deal and urged Hamas to accept the terms currently on offer.

The proposal being discussed envisions a truce of about 40 days, during which militants would release around 40 of the more than 100 hostages they are still holding in return for some 400 detainees from Israeli jails.

Israel would pull back from some areas, more humanitarian aid would be allowed into Gaza, and residents would be permitted to return home.

But the deal did not appear to address directly a Hamas demand for a path to a permanent end to the war. Nor does it resolve the fate of more than half the remaining hostages – Israeli men excluded from both this and earlier agreements covering women, children, the elderly and the wounded.

Israel says it will not end the war until Hamas is eradicated. Hamas says it will not free all its hostages without a deal that ends the war.

The Egyptian security sources said mediators were trying to bridge the gap with guarantees to Hamas on future peace talks and to Israel on the safety of hostages.

A Palestinian official close to the negotiations disputed the US contention that Israel had agreed to the deal and Hamas was holding it up, saying this appeared aimed at deflecting blame from Israel should the talks collapse.

A Ramadan truce could head off a threatened Israeli assault on Rafah, the town in southern Gaza where more than half the enclave’s population has taken shelter.

But recent days have been particularly bloody. Residents have described heavy fighting since Saturday just north of Rafah in Khan Younis and Israeli forces have released video showing buildings obliterated in airstrikes.

Violence has also surged in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule, having lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007.


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