Egypt seeks to broker Gaza ceasefire as Hamas, Israel assert demands
The U.S. said "very serious" negotiations were taking place on a new Gaza ceasefire and release of more Israeli hostages, but prospects for a deal remained uncertain as Hamas insisted it would not discuss anything less than a complete end to Israel's offensive in the Palestinian enclave.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh visited Egypt on Wednesday for the first time in more than a month for discussions with Egyptian officials who are seeking to mediate another truce.
A source briefed on the negotiations said envoys were intensively discussing which of the hostages still held by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza could be freed in a new truce and which Palestinian prisoners Israel might release in return.
Islamic Jihad is also holding hostages in Gaza, said its leader would visit Egypt in coming days as well to discuss a possible end to the conflict.
"These are very serious discussions and negotiations, and we hope that they lead somewhere," White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday.
But Taher Al-Nono, Haniyeh's media adviser, told Reuters that Hamas was not willing to discuss releasing more Israeli hostages until Israel ends its military campaign in Gaza and the volume of humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians increases.
"The issue of prisoners can be negotiated after these two matters are achieved. We cannot talk about negotiations while Israel continues its aggression. Discussing any proposal related to prisoners must occur after the cessation of aggression," Nono said in an interview in Cairo.
Hamas rejects any further temporary pause in Israel's military campaign and says it will discuss only a permanent ceasefire. "We have talked with our brothers in Egypt, outlining our stance on this aggression and the urgent need to stop it as a top priority," Nono said.
Israel has insisted all remaining women and infirm men among the hostages be released, the source briefed on the negotiations said, declining to be identified. Palestinians convicted of serious offences could be on the list of prisoners to be freed by Israel.