Hamas heads to Cairo for truce talks as Rafah braces for Israeli assault

AFP , Ahram Online , Wednesday 14 Feb 2024

Negotiations for a truce and a captives exchange deal in Gaza headed into a second day in Cairo on Wednesday, as displaced Palestinians braced for an expected Israeli assault on their last refuge of Rafah.

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Neighbors inspect the rubble of the Hasouna family house, which was struck by an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 2024. AP

 

A Hamas source told AFP that a delegation was headed to Cairo to meet Egyptian and Qatari mediators after Israeli negotiators held talks with the mediators on Tuesday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also due in Cairo Wednesday for talks with President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

CIA Director William Burns had joined Tuesday's talks with David Barnea, head of Israel's Mossad intelligence service, which Egyptian media said had been mostly "positive."

US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby described the negotiations as "constructive and moving in the right direction."

The number of Palestinian prisoners Hamas aims to release in exchange for detainees it holds in Gaza is the "main gap" in current negotiations, the Israeli media outlet Walla reported, citing unnamed US and Israeli officials.

Walla further states that "progress was made in understanding the gaps" and mentions that Egypt and Qatar, mediators of the talks, will inquire whether Hamas is willing to reconsider its position.

During a temporary truce in November last year, three Palestinian detainees were released for every Israeli held by Hamas in Gaza.

Mediators are racing to secure a pause to the fighting before Israel proceeds with a full-scale ground incursion into the Gaza Strip's far-southern city of Rafah, where more than 1.4 million Palestinians are trapped.

The potential for mass civilian casualties has triggered urgent appeals, even from close allies, for Israel to hold off sending troops into the last major population center they have yet to enter in the four-month war.

Key ally the United States has said it will not back any ground operation in Rafah without a "credible plan" for protecting civilians.

Rafah is the main entry point for desperately needed relief supplies and UN agencies have warned of a humanitarian disaster if an assault goes ahead.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said any military operation "could lead to a slaughter."

Terrified civilians have been locked in a desperate search for safety.

Some Gazans in Rafah were already packing up their belongings in readiness to move but others vowed to stay put, fearing even greater misery in the bombed-out hometowns they fled.

As the truce talks go on in Cairo, the Israeli occupation army has kept up its bombardment of Gaza. The Palestinian health ministry said Wednesday that 104 people had been killed overnight.

Late Tuesday, the Israeli army released a video it claimed was from a security camera and showed Gaza's Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar and family members in a tunnel days after the 7 October operation.

"The hunt will not stop until he is captured alive or dead," Israeli army spokesperson Daniel Hagari told reporters.

 

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