Hamas delegation to arrive in Egypt for Gaza truce talks

AFP , Monday 29 Apr 2024

A Hamas delegation is due to arrive Monday in Egypt, where it will respond to Israel's latest proposal for a long-sought captive-release deal and truce in the Gaza Strip after almost seven months of war.

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Children walk in a camp for displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip by the border with Egypt on April 28, 2024. AFP

 

Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been trying to mediate an agreement between Israel and Hamas for months, as the death toll in Gaza rises and calls for a deal intensify.

But despite intense pressure to reach a ceasefire, secure the release of captives held in Gaza and allow more humanitarian aid into the war-battered territory, a deal has remained elusive.

The Palestinian group said Sunday it had no "major issues" with the content of Israel's most recent offer for a truce.

"The atmosphere is positive unless there are new Israeli obstacles," a senior Hamas official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Humanitarians say the war has brought Gaza to the brink of famine, reduced much of it to rubble and raised fears of broader conflict.

At a market in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where Israeli officials have vowed to rout Hamas fighters, shoppers said prices of fresh vegetables have risen.

Mohammed Sarhan, 48, said 100 shekels ($26) used to buy enough for a week, but now it is "not enough for one meal for my family".

More than one million Palestinians have taken shelter in the city.

Since a one-week halt to the fighting in November saw 80 Israeli captives exchanged for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, mediators Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been working to secure a new truce.

Israel estimates that 129 captives are still being held in Gaza, including 34 the military says are dead.

Hamas has previously insisted on a permanent ceasefire -- a condition Israel has rejected.

'A complete failing' 
 

However, the Axios news website, citing two Israeli officials, reported that Israel's latest proposal includes a willingness to discuss the "restoration of sustainable calm" in Gaza after captives are released.

It is the first time that Israeli leaders have suggested they are open to discussing an end to the war, Axios said.

A Hamas source close to the negotiations had told AFP the group "is open to discussing the new proposal positively" and is "keen to reach an agreement that guarantees a permanent ceasefire, the free return of displaced people, an acceptable deal for (prisoner) exchange and ensuring an end to the siege" in Gaza.

As diplomatic efforts intensified, US President Joe Biden spoke with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone Sunday and reviewed the ongoing talks, the White House said.

At a summit in Riyadh beginning Sunday, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said the international community had failed Gaza.

"The situation in Gaza obviously is a catastrophe by every measure -- humanitarian, but also a complete failing of the existing political system to deal with that crisis," Prince Faisal told the World Economic Forum (WEF) special meeting.

He reiterated that only "a credible, irreversible path to a Palestinian state" will prevent the world from confronting "this same situation two, three, four years down the line".

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority has partial administrative control in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, appealed at the WEF meeting for the United States to stop Israel from invading Rafah, which he said would be "the biggest disaster in the history of the Palestinian people".

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz signalled on Saturday, however, that Israel would be willing to call off an invasion of Rafah if Hamas accepted a deal to release captives.

"If there is a deal, we will suspend the operation," Katz told Israel's Channel 12.

Warnings
 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who backs steps towards a Palestinian state, is among the high-ranking global officials due in Riyadh.

He will also visit Israel and Jordan on a trip through Wednesday, the State Department announced.

Gaza's health ministry on Sunday reported at least 66 deaths in the previous 24 hours, down from a peak this month of at least 153 deaths on April 9.

UN humanitarian agency OCHA has warned that "famine thresholds in Gaza will be breached within the next six weeks" if massive food aid does not arrive.

The White House said Sunday that a US-made pier meant to boost aid to Gaza will become operational in two to three weeks but cannot replace land routes.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on ABC News that Israel is letting in more trucks, in line with "commitments that President Biden asked them to meet".

A cargo ship, the Jennifer, which left Cyprus carrying aid from the United Arab Emirates, was off Israel's Ashdod port on Sunday night, the vesselfinder.com tracker showed.

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