Hamas official says Cairo talks 'last chance' for Israel to free captives

AFP , Tuesday 7 May 2024

A senior Hamas official said Tuesday that a delegation from the Palestinian group was due to leave for Gaza truce talks in Cairo, warning it would be Israel's "last chance" to release its captives.

File photo: A Red Cross vehicle carrying Israeli captives drives by at the Gaza Strip crossing into Egypt in Rafah on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023. AP


"This may be the last chance to recover the Israeli captives alive," said the official, requesting anonymity to discuss the negotiations.

The official said the Hamas negotiators had cancelled plans earlier Tuesday to travel from Doha to Cairo for negotiations after Israel's incursion across the Rafah border crossing in southern Gaza, but that they would leave "shortly" for Egypt.

The official warned that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "decision to invade Rafah" indicated that "he and his army have made the decision to let the prisoners die".

"This will be the last chance for Netanyahu and the families of the Zionist prisoners to return their children," the official said.

Otherwise, the captives' "fate will be the same as the fate of pilot Ron Arad", he said of an air force navigator shot down over Lebanon in 1986. Arad was believed to have been held by Shia groups there and is now presumed dead.

According to Israeli officials, talks were due to take place later Tuesday.

The new round of negotiations comes after Hamas announced late Monday it had accepted a ceasefire plan proposed by Egyptian and Qatari mediators, saying the ball was now in Israel's court.

Despite months of shuttle diplomacy, mediators have so far failed to broker a new truce like the week-long ceasefire that saw 105 captives released last November, the Israelis among them in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Previous negotiation efforts had stalled in part because of Hamas's demand for a lasting ceasefire and Netanyahu's vows to invade the border city of Rafah.

Captives families have been among those pressing through repeated protests for Israel to reach a deal with Hamas to bring home captives still held in Gaza.

On Tuesday, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said it had sent messages to the ambassadors of other governments with citizens among the captives to pressure Israel to strike a deal with Hamas for their return.

"This is the time to exert your influence on the Israeli government and all other parties concerned to ensure that the agreement comes through which will finally bring all our loved ones home," the message said.

During the events on October 7,  Palestinian fighters seized around 250 captives to exchange them for Palestinians unjustly detained and held in Israeli prisons.

Israel estimates 128 captives remain in Gaza, including 35 the military says are dead.

Israel's war on Gaza has killed at least 34,789 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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