Hamas, mediators press on with Gaza truce talks in Israelis’ absence

Tuesday, Mar 05, 2024

CAIRO/RAFAH, Gaza Strip: Hamas and Egyptian mediators said on Monday they were pressing on with talks on securing a ceasefire in Gaza, despite an Israeli decision not to send a delegation.

The ceasefire talks, which began on Sunday in Cairo, are billed as a final hurdle to establish the first extended ceasefire of the five-month-old war, in time for the Ramadan Muslim fasting month which is expected to begin on Sunday.

Israel has declined to comment publicly on the Cairo talks, including its decision not to attend. A source had told Reuters Israel would stay away because Hamas refused a request to list which hostages are still alive, information the Palestinian militants say they will provide only once terms are agreed.

“Talks in Cairo continue for the second day regardless of whether the occupation’s delegation is present in Egypt,” a Hamas official told Reuters on Monday.Two Egyptian security sources said mediators were in touch with the Israelis, allowing negotiations to continue despite the delegation’s absence.

A second Palestinian source close to the talks said the discussions remained “uneasy”, with Israel sticking to its demand for only a temporary truce to free hostages, while Hamas was seeking assurances war would not start up again.

Washington, which is both Israel’s closest ally and a sponsor of the talks, says a deal remains close, with an agreement already effectively approved by Israel and only awaiting acceptance from Hamas.

“Hamas claims it wants a ceasefire. Well, there is a deal on the table. And as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal,” Vice President Kamala Harris said on Sunday.She also signalled an apparent hardening of tone from President Joe Biden’s administration towards its ally, using unusually forceful language to urge Israel to alleviate the “inhumane” conditions.

“The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses,” she said.In a sign of the strain between the Biden administration and the right-wing Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.