Resumption in Cairo of discussions on a truce in Gaza

Resumption in Cairo of discussions on a truce in Gaza
Resumption in Cairo of discussions on a truce in Gaza
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May 5, 2024 – 01:30

(Keystone-ATS) Discussions resumed Saturday in Cairo on the means to reach a truce in the war in Gaza between Israel and Palestinian Hamas, against a backdrop of reciprocal accusations from the belligerents of hindering any agreement.

On the ground, new Israeli strikes targeted the Gaza Strip, notably Rafah, a town in the south of the devastated and besieged Palestinian territory, killing 32 people in the last 24 hours, according to the Ministry of Health of the Islamist movement Hamas.

In the seventh month of the war triggered by an unprecedented bloody attack by Hamas on October 7 against Israel, the director of the World Food Program (WFP), Cindy McCain, warned that northern Gaza was hit by a “real famine”, which is progressing towards the south of the Palestinian territory.

The day after Hamas’ accusations that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is obstructing any agreement by wanting to launch an assault on Rafah, an Israeli official, in turn, accused the Palestinian movement of blocking any agreement by insisting on its demand for a halt of the war.

The offer from the mediators (Egypt, Qatar, United States) presented to Hamas at the end of April provides for a truce associated with the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for that of hostages kidnapped during the October 7 attack.

On Saturday, a Hamas delegation led by Khalil al-Hayya held a first round of discussions in Cairo with mediators who were awaiting the Palestinian movement’s response.

There were “no developments” on Saturday and new discussions are planned for Sunday, said a Hamas official who took power in Gaza in 2007.

“You undermine any agreement”

“Reports that Israel has agreed to end the war as part of a prisoner exchange deal or that Israel will allow mediation to ensure that the war will stop are inaccurate,” he said. AFP in Jerusalem an Israeli official after the resumption of negotiations in Cairo.

“So far, Hamas (…) is thus hindering the possibility of reaching an agreement” on a truce, he said on condition of anonymity.

A Hamas official reiterated to AFP on Saturday that his movement would “under no circumstances accept an agreement that does not explicitly provide for an end to the war”.

“Our information confirms that (Benjamin) Netanyahu is personally slowing down an agreement through personal calculations,” also affirmed this official, who requested anonymity.

Israel is not present in Cairo and an Israeli official had earlier indicated that his country would send a delegation there in the event of progress on the “framework” of the exchange between hostages and prisoners, while predicting “difficult negotiations” to reach an actual agreement.

According to the American site Axios, the head of the CIA, William Burns, is in the Egyptian capital.

On Friday, Hamas said it was going to Cairo with an “open mind”, while insisting on its demands: “a total cessation of Israeli aggression” and “the withdrawal” of Israeli forces from Gaza.

Israel has always rejected these conditions from Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization along with the United States and the European Union, and which it swore to annihilate after the October 7 attack.

In the evening, thousands of people, including relatives of hostages, demonstrated in Tel Aviv to demand that the Netanyahu government conclude a truce agreement allowing the return of the hostages.

A sign bearing Mr Netanyahu’s portrait reads: “It is you who undermine any agreement”.

“Beyond acceptable”

While efforts and calls for a truce multiply, Benjamin Netanyahu continues to declare his intention to lead a ground offensive on Rafah, a city which according to him constitutes the last major bastion of Hamas in the Palestinian territory.

“We will do what is necessary to win and defeat our enemy, including in Rafah,” Mr. Netanyahu reiterated this week, stressing that he would launch this offensive “with or without an agreement” of truce.

For Hossam Badran, a member of the Hamas political bureau, Mr. Netanyahu’s threats against Rafah “clearly aim to derail any possibility of an agreement”.

The United States, Israel’s main ally, has repeatedly expressed its opposition to an assault on this city, where there are 1.2 million Palestinians, most of them displaced by the war.

According to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the United States cannot support such an operation “because the damage it would cause would be beyond what is acceptable.”

“Famine is coming”

Rafah, located on Egypt’s closed border, is the main land crossing point for humanitarian aid for the Palestinian territory besieged by Israel and threatened by famine according to the UN.

An offensive would be “a major blow to humanitarian operations across the Gaza Strip,” the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs warned.

International aid, strictly controlled by Israel, arrives in trickles in the Gaza Strip and remains very insufficient to meet the needs of some 2.4 million Gazans.

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