Home International Hamas arrives in Cairo for ceasefire talks with deal ‘on the table’

Hamas arrives in Cairo for ceasefire talks with deal ‘on the table’

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A delegation from Hamas arrived in Cairo on Sunday for crunch talks on a Gaza ceasefire, billed as a potential final hurdle towards an agreement that would halt the fighting for six weeks

An Israeli armoured personnel carrier maneouvers along the Israel-Gaza border fence, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, March 3, 2024. Picture: Reuters, Amir Cohen

By Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Bassam Masoud

CAIRO/RAFAH, Gaza Strip – A delegation from Hamas arrived in Cairo on Sunday for crunch talks on a Gaza ceasefire, billed as a potential final hurdle towards an agreement that would halt the fighting for six weeks.

Washington said a ceasefire deal was already “on the table”, approved by Israel and awaiting only a sign-off from the militants. But the warring sides gave away little information on the state of any progress.

After the Hamas delegation arrived, a Palestinian official told Reuters the deal was “not yet there”. From the Israeli side, there was no official confirmation even that its delegation was attending.

One source briefed on the talks had said Israel could stay away from Cairo unless Hamas first presented a full list of hostages who are still alive, a demand that a Palestinian source said Hamas had so far rejected as premature.

Still, a US official told reporters: “The path to a ceasefire right now literally at this hour is straightforward. And there’s a deal on the table. There’s a framework deal.”

An agreement would bring the first extended truce of the war, which has raged for five months so far with just a week-long pause in November. Dozens of hostages held by the militants would be freed in return for hundreds of Palestinian detainees.

Aid to besieged Gaza would be ramped up to save the lives of Palestinians pushed to the verge of famine. Fighting would cease in time to head off a massive planned Israeli assault on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are penned in against the enclave’s border fence. Israeli forces would pull back from some areas and allow Gazans to return to homes abandoned earlier in the war.

But a deal would stop short of fulfilling the main Hamas demand for a permanent end to the war, while also leaving unresolved the fate of more than half of the more than 100 remaining hostages – including Israeli men of fighting age not covered by a deal to free women, children, elderly and wounded.

Egyptian mediators have suggested those issues could be set aside for now with assurances they would be resolved in later stages. A Hamas source told Reuters the militants were still holding out for a “package deal”.

US President Joe Biden said last week that a deal could be reached as soon as Monday, although Washington has since rowed back from such a firm timetable. The aim is to have it in place in time to halt the fighting for the Ramadaan Muslim fasting month, which begins in a week.

RAFAH AIRSTRIKE

The final days leading up to the anticipated truce have been exceptionally bloody, with talks overshadowed by the deaths of 118 people near a food convoy where Israeli forces opened fire. Hamas called it a massacre; Israel says most of those killed were trampled in a stampede.

In the latest reported attack on aid, Gaza authorities said at least eight people were killed on Sunday when a truck carrying food aid from a Kuwaiti charity was hit by an air strike. There was no immediate Israeli comment.

The war was unleashed in October after Hamas fighters stormed through Israeli towns killing 1,200 people and capturing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Since then, Israeli forces have killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities, with thousands more dead feared unrecovered under rubble.

Swathes of the Gaza Strip have been laid to waste, nearly the entire population has been made homeless, and the United Nations estimates that a quarter of Gazans are on the verge of a man-made famine.

At a morgue outside a Rafah hospital, women wept and wailed beside rows of bodies of the Abu Anza family, 14 of whom were killed in an Israeli airstrike overnight. Relatives opened a black plastic body bag to kiss the face of a dead schoolgirl in a torn sweatshirt and pink unicorn pyjamas.

Later, the bodies were brought to a graveyard and buried, including two infant twins, a boy and a girl, passed down in white bundles and placed in the ground.

“My heart is gone” wailed their mother, Rania Abu Anza, who also lost her husband in the attack. “I haven’t had enough time with them.”

Residents described heavy bombardment overnight of Khan Younis, the main southern Gaza city, just to the north of Rafah. Further north, where aid no longer reaches and the situation has grown even more desperate, Gaza health authorities said 15 children had now died of malnutrition or dehydration inside the Kamal Adwan hospital where there was no power for the intensive care unit. Staff fear for the lives of six more children there.

Washington dropped 38,000 of thousands of meals from military aircraft into Gaza on Saturday, though aid agencies say this can have only a marginal impact given the hundreds of thousands of people who are now in desperate need of food.

Following the deaths at the aid convoy last week, Israel said on Sunday its initial review had found that most of those killed or wounded had been trampled. Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said troops had mostly fired only warning shots, although they also “responded towards several individuals” after “looters approached our forces and posed an immediate threat”.

– REUTERS

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