Blinken assistant Barbara Leaf to visit Egypt in Mideast tour for Gaza talks

Amr Kandil , Tuesday 9 Jul 2024

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf has embarked on a Middle East tour, including Cairo, to discuss ongoing diplomatic efforts for a ceasefire deal in Gaza.

Barbara Leaf
File Photo: Barbara Leaf, US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, speaks to reporters at a media roundtable in Kuwait City. AFP


According to a statement by the US Department of State on Monday, Antony Blinken's assistant Leaf will hold meetings with government officials in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank.

The tour, extending until 14 July, also includes Italy.

Leaf's discussions during the visit will focus on efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement in the war-battered Gaza, secure the release of captives held there, and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid throughout the strip.

The statement also mentioned that further talks will be held on building lasting peace and security in the post-war period.

Leaf's visit coincides with Cairo hosting a new round of talks that involve senior Egyptian, US, and Israeli officials regarding a ceasefire deal.

The officials who arrived in Cairo this week include CIA Director William Burns, White House Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk, and Shin Bet Chief Ronen Bar.

Cautious optimism

A glimmer of hope has been raised recently for progress in talks for a ceasefire and detainee swap agreement between Hamas and Israel, which is anticipated to bring an end to the prolonged war in Gaza.

US and Israeli officials have expressed optimism after Hamas seemingly compromised its long-held precondition of Israel agreeing to a permanent ceasefire before any deal can be reached.

Instead, Hamas is now relying on the mediators' pledge that a ceasefire will continue as long as captive release negotiations are ongoing, according to a top Hamas official.

Despite the optimism, Hamas on Monday accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of obstructing the negotiations.

Netanyahu's office stated on Sunday that any deal would allow Israel to continue fighting until all war objectives are achieved.

The current talks are centred around a ceasefire plan outlined by US President Joe Biden on 31 May, which includes a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, a permanent cessation of hostilities, and a significant boost in relief aid to the strip.


US President Joe Biden details an Israeli proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza in the State Dining Room of the White House on May 31, 2024. AFP

‘Non-negotiable demands’

Netanyahu has issued a list of "non-negotiable" demands for any deal to be approved, including the possibility of resuming Israeli war in Gaza until all war objectives are met, as reported by the Times of Israel.

Other demands involve halting alleged weapons smuggling to Hamas through the Egypt-Gaza border, a claim that has been denied by the State Information Service (SIS) Chief Diaa Rashwan as “ridiculous.”

Netanyahu's demands also oppose the return of “thousands of armed terrorists to the northern Gaza Strip” and insist on maximizing the number of Israeli captives to be returned by Hamas.

Gaza tragedy

The Israeli strikes came in retaliation for an attack by Hamas on Israeli cities on 7 October 2023, during which the fighters captured over 250 individuals, including civilians and soldiers.

Throughout nine months, Israel’s devastating war has killed and injured over 126,000 people, destroyed infrastructure, displaced most residents, and pushed the strip to the brink of famine.

There has been no truce in the Gaza war since a one-week pause in November, which saw around 105 captives, including Israelis and foreign nationals, freed in return for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

During the war, Israel managed to free a few captives alive, while others were confirmed dead by Hamas due to Israeli strikes.

However, more than 100 captives are believed to remain held in the strip, intensifying public pressure on Netanyahu.

Over the past months, frequent street protests throughout Israel have chanted against the government, calling for a captive deal.

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