Israel-Hamas truce talks falter

Palestinians look at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. Picture: Reuters

Palestinians look at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. Picture: Reuters

Published May 6, 2024


Prospects for a Gaza ceasefire appeared slim on Sunday as Hamas reiterated its demand for an end to the war in exchange for the freeing of hostages, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flatly ruled that out.

The two sides blamed each other for the impasse.

In their second day of truce talks in Cairo with Egyptian and Qatari mediators, Hamas negotiators maintained their stance that any truce agreement must end the war, Palestinian officials said.

Israeli officials have not travelled to Cairo to take part in indirect diplomacy, but Sunday Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s aim since the start of the war nearly seven months ago: to disarm and dismantle the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas for good or else endanger Israel’s future security.

The prime minister said Israel was willing to pause fighting in Gaza to secure the release of hostages still being held by Hamas, believed to number more than 130.

“But while Israel has shown willingness, Hamas remains entrenched in its extreme positions, first among them the demand to remove all our forces from the Gaza Strip, end the war, and leave Hamas in power,” Netanyahu said. “Israel cannot accept that.”

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said the group is still keen on reaching a comprehensive ceasefire that ends the Israeli “aggression”, guarantees Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and achieves “a serious” deal to free Israelis being held hostage in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Haniyeh blamed Netanyahu for “the continuation of the aggression the expansion of the conflict, and sabotaging the efforts made through the mediators and various parties.”

The war began after Hamas stunned Israel with a cross-border raid on October 7 in which 1 200 people were killed and 252 hostages taken, according to Israeli tallies. More than 34600 Palestinians have been killed, 29 of them in the past 24 hours, and more than 77 000 wounded in Israel’s assault, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

The bombardment has devastated much of the coastal enclave and caused a humanitarian crisis.

As the talks were under way, residents and health officials in Gaza said Israeli planes and tanks continued to pound areas across the Palestinian enclave overnight, killing and wounding several people.

On Sunday, a Palestinian official said that the Cairo negotiations were “facing challenges because the occupation (Israel) refuses to commit to a comprehensive ceasefire”. The Hamas delegation was still in Cairo in the hope mediators could press Israel to change its position, he said.

Qatar, where Hamas has a political office, and Egypt are trying to mediate a follow-up to a brief November ceasefire, amid international dismay over the soaring death toll in Gaza and the plight of its 2.3 million inhabitants.

Egyptian sources said CIA Director William Burns, who has also been involved in previous truce talks, arrived in Cairo on Friday. Washington – which, like other Western powers and Israel, brands Hamas a terrorist group – has urged it to enter a deal.

Israel has given a preliminary nod to terms that one source said included the return of between 20 and 33 hostages in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and a truce of several weeks.

That would leave around 100 hostages in Gaza, some of whom Israel says have died in captivity. The source said that their return may require an additional deal.

Thousands of Israelis protested on Saturday, demanding Netanyahu accept a ceasefire agreement with Hamas that would see the remaining hostages brought home.

Meanwhile on Sunday, an Israeli airstrike killed four members of a family in a house in a border village in southern Lebanon, security sources said.

The four were killed in Meiss al Jabal, which has suffered extensive damage in regular exchanges of fire between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group since the start of the war.

Hezbollah said it fired “tens” of Katyusha rockets at the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, a northern town close to the Lebanese border, in retaliation.

Airstrikes and shelling have taken place sporadically but both sides have pulled back from all-out war.

Netanyahu’s cabinet decided on Sunday to shut down Al Jazeera’s operations in Israel for as long as the war in Gaza continues, on the grounds the Qatari television network threatens national security.

Al Jazeera rejected the accusations as a “dangerous and ridiculous lie” that puts its journalists at risk and reserved the right to “pursue every legal step”.

Cape Times