Hamas, US envoys converge in Cairo for talks despite Israel absence

Hamas, US envoys converge in Cairo for talks despite Israel absence
A US envoy is expected in Cairo on Wednesday, one day after a senior Hamas delegation landed. There are speculations around Israel's participation to the talks.
3 min read
21 February, 2024
US National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk is expected in Cairo on Wednesday for talks about the Gaza war. (Photo by MAZEN MAHDI/AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli sources denied reports that it plans to send a delegation to Cairo to discuss the release of hostages on Wednesday, amid reports that Hamas and US delegations are present in the Egyptian capital. 

White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk is expected in Egypt today to discuss Israel’s planned offensive on Rafah, before heading to Tel Aviv to meet Israeli officials.

Meanwhile, the head of Hamas’ political bureau Ismail Haniyeh already arrived in Cairo on Tuesday morning at the head of a Hamas delegation.

McGurk is due to meet with Head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (GIS) Abbas Kamel and other Egyptian officials in Cairo, according to Axios.

He was initially expected to fly over to Israel the following day to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli officials, and the presence of a Hamas delegation in Egypt led media to speculate that Israel might directly negotiate with the Palestinian movement in Cairo. 

"No decision has been made yet to send an Israeli delegation to attend the talks," said an Israeli political official on Wednesday, quoted by the Israeli “Channel 13”. Other anonymous Israeli sources cited by the Israeli website Ynet said that Tel-Aviv would "wait for a response from Hamas today or tomorrow and will then decide whether or not to send a delegation to the negotiations."

"If there is progress before the mediators in the ongoing talks in Egypt, an Israeli delegation will head to Cairo in the coming days," the sources told Ynet.

McGurk’ discussions will likely center on Israel’s planned assault on Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza strip which currently hosts 1.5 million Palestinians. Most have moved to Rafah in recent weeks from other parts of Gaza, to seek refuge from Israel’s air and ground offensive, which had killed over 29,000 Palestinians as of Wednesday. 

The US envoy is also expected to discuss the release of an estimated 130 Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

US President Joe Biden told Netanyahu last week that he opposes an offensive on Gaza without a "credible and executable plan" for evacuating Palestinian civilians from the city, but in parallel, Washington on Tuesday vetoed an Algerian draft resolution at the UN Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Egypt is a key stakeholder in the conflict due to the land border it shares with Gaza.

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Cairo has already hosted delegations of Israelis, Americans, and Hamas over the past few weeks and several truce talks.

The simultaneous presence of Hamas and US officials in Cairo likely signals an attempt to speed up mediation efforts before the beginning of Ramadan.

"The visit of the delegation headed by Haniyeh, which includes the deputy head of the movement in Gaza, Khalil al-Haya, and the acting head of the movement's office in the West Bank, Zaher Jabarin, was decided on suddenly following an Egyptian invitation," a source within Hamas told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister outlet. 

Cairo is concerned that the promised Israeli operation in Rafah would push tens of thousands of Palestinians across the Egyptian border, which it considers a red line. 

It briefly threatened last week to rupture relations with Israel in case of a spillover of the war in Gaza on its soil