Gaza ceasefire talks expected in Cairo on Sunday following aid worker death outcry

Gaza ceasefire talks expected in Cairo on Sunday following aid worker death outcry
Ahead of upcoming truce talks, Hamas said it stood by its previous demands of a complete ceasefire in Gaza, and a withdrawal of Israeli forces.
4 min read
Global calls for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza have intensified in recent weeks [Getty/file photo]

American, Israeli and Hamas negotiators are expected in Cairo over the weekend in a renewed push for a ceasefire and hostage release deal in a war that reaches the half-year mark on Sunday.

Ahead of the talks Hamas confirmed its core demands - a complete ceasefire in Gaza and withdrawal of Israeli forces from the war-hit territory.

The ceasefire attempt comes after Israel's military made a rare admission of wrongdoing and said it was firing two officers over the killing of seven aid workers in Gaza, which drew widespread condemnation.

The admission did not quell calls for an independent probe, however.

The deaths of the workers from US-based World Central Kitchen (WCK) on 1 April led to a tense call between US President Joe Biden and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Biden urged an "immediate ceasefire" and for the first time hinted at conditioning US support for Israel on curtailing the killing of civilians and improving humanitarian conditions.

The bloodiest-ever Gaza war began on 7 October with Israel relentlessly bombarding the territory, killing at least 33,137 people, mostly women and children.

Iran vows revenge

Live Story

The UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths decried Israel's war against Hamas and called for a "collective determination that there be a reckoning for this betrayal of humanity".

Fears that the war could spread intensified after Iran vowed retaliation after seven Revolutionary Guards were killed in an air strike Monday on the consular annex of its embassy in Damascus.

Ahead of the weekend talks, Biden wrote to the leaders of Egypt and Qatar urging them to secure commitments from Hamas to "agree to and abide by a deal", a senior administration official told AFP.

Stop-start talks have made no headway since a week-long truce in November saw some hostages exchanged for child and female Palestinian prisoners detained by Israel.

The White House confirmed negotiations would occur this weekend in Cairo, and Hamas said its delegation would head there on Sunday.

But Hamas also restated its key demands.

"Hamas confirms its adherence to the position it presented on March 14, and we will not back down from this position," a statement said.

"The demands are complete ceasefire, withdrawal of the occupation forces from Gaza, the return of the displaced to their residential areas, freedom of movement of the people, offering them aid and shelter, and a serious hostage exchange deal," it said.

Biden's Thursday call with Netanyahu included discussions on "empowering his negotiators" to reach a deal, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

Washington blames the lack of a deal on Hamas's refusal to release sick and other vulnerable hostages, while Qatar has said Israeli objections to the return of displaced Gazans are the main holdup.

Live Story

Biden is under pressure over massive US military aid to Israel which, so far, Washington has not leveraged despite increasingly critical comments about its conduct of the war.

UN agencies have accused Israel of blocking aid, but Israel blames shortages on aid groups' inability to distribute supplies once they get in.

The Israeli military announced it was firing two officers after finding a series of errors led to the drone strikes that killed the WCK workers.

WCK said its Gaza operations remain suspended after the attack, while other global aid groups said relief work in the territory has become almost impossible.


The army said a commander "mistakenly assumed" Hamas had seized the aid vehicles, which were moving at night.

Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Saturday Canberra had "not yet received sufficient information" from Israel about the death of Lalzawmi "Zomi" Frankcom and the other aid workers.

"It cannot be brushed aside and it cannot be covered over," Wong said.

WCK said Israel "cannot credibly investigate its own failure in Gaza" and said its staff were attacked despite having "followed all proper communications procedures".

Britain called for a "wholly independent review", while Poland sought a "criminal" probe.

Live Story

Hours after Biden and Netanyahu spoke, Israel announced it would allow "temporary" aid deliveries through Israel's Ashdod port and the Erez border crossing.

UN chief Antonio Guterres called for a "paradigm shift" rather than "scattered measures".

'Dying from hunger' 

Mahmud Bassal, spokesman for Gaza's Civil Defence agency, told AFP Saturday aid reaching Gaza is "absolutely not sufficient" for its 2.4 million people, with basic necessities "extremely scarce" particularly in the north.

"Children are dying from hunger" there, he said.

Around 1.5 million Gazans are sheltering in the territory's far south, in Rafah.

"We are ordinary citizens and human beings," Siham Achur, 50, said in the tent that is now her family's home. "Why did they bomb our house?"

They had lived in Khan Yunis for 30 years, Achur said, but those memories "have become dust".