Hamas's Haniyeh in Egypt to discuss potential Gaza truce and hostage release deal

Hamas's Haniyeh in Egypt to discuss potential Gaza truce and hostage release deal
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was in Egypt on Wednesday to discuss a possible truce and hostage release deal between the group and Israel.
4 min read
20 December, 2023
A second truce deal between Hamas and Israel could see the release of further Palestinian prisoners and Israeli hostages [Getty/ file photo]

The leader of Hamas travelled to Egypt on Wednesday as hopes grew that Israel and the Palestinian armed group may be inching toward another truce and hostage release deal amid the devastating Israeli war on Gaza, which has so far killed nearly 20,000 people, mostly women and children.

The Qatar-based leader of Hamas' political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, arrived in Cairo for discussions on the "aggression in the Gaza Strip and other matters", the group said in a statement.

He was due to meet Egypt's spy chief for talks on "stopping the aggression and the war to prepare an agreement for the release of prisoners", a source close to the group told AFP.

Haniyeh - who earlier met Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Qatar - was heading a "high-level delegation" to Egypt, a frequent mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, the source said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told hostage families late on Tuesday that he had twice sent his spy chief to Europe in efforts intended to "free our hostages".

"It's our duty, I'm responsible for the release of all the hostages," the premier told the relatives of some of the 129 captives still believed to be held in Gaza.

"Saving them is a supreme task. I have just sent the head of Mossad to Europe twice to promote a process to free our hostages. I will spare no effort on the subject, and our duty is to bring them all back."

Netanyahu, however, has been subjected to severe criticism from Israelis, with calls for his resignation over his handling of the hostage situation.

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US news site Axios reported Monday that Mossad chief David Barnea had met CIA director Bill Burns and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Europe.

Qatar, aided by Egypt and the United States, helped broker a week-long truce in November in which 80 Israeli hostages were freed in exchange for 240 Palestinian women and child prisoners, including Palestinian resistance icon Ahed Tamimi.

Despite the release of Palestinian prisoners, Israel went on to detain hundreds in the West Bank amidintensified raids in the occupied territory since the start of the brutal military campaign against Gaza on October 7. At least 4,000 Palestinians have been detained so far.

A source close to Hamas told AFP the Egypt talks would focus on proposals including a week-long truce that would see the release of 40 Israeli hostages, including women, children and male non-combatants.

The truce would be open to extension if there is agreement on new conditions for further releases, the source said, adding that the proposals had been discussed between Qatar and Israel with the knowledge of the US administration.

UN vote expected 

Israeli President Isaac Herzog also said Tuesday his country was "ready for another humanitarian pause and additional humanitarian aid in order to enable the release of hostages".

Another Palestinian armed group, Islamic Jihad, meanwhile, released video footage it claimed showed two elderly hostages in its custody in Gaza, ramping up pressure on Israel.

The UN Security Council was set to vote later on Wednesday on a resolution calling for a pause in the conflict, three diplomatic sources told AFP, after two previous votes were delayed as members wrangled over wording.

The latest version of the text calls for the "suspension" of hostilities, the sources said.

The US vetoed a previous ceasefire resolution, sparking condemnation by humanitarian groups and the Palestinian Authority, which urged more action to help civilians caught in the conflict.

For now, the attack on the Gaza Strip was raging unabated after Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Tuesday that troops were expanding operations in southern Gaza's Khan Younis area. At least 11 people were killed overnight in Israeli strikes across the battered territory.

The UN estimates 1.9 million of Gaza's 2.4 million residents have been displaced and concerns are growing about the limited ability of aid groups to help.

"Amid displacement at an unimaginable scale and active hostilities, the humanitarian response system is on the brink," said Tor Wennesland, the UN's special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

Gazans are facing a perilous winter, and the UN children's agency warned that "child deaths due to disease could surpass those killed in bombardments".

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 Red Sea attacks 

The Gaza war, which has killed at least 19,667 Palestinians, has sparked fears of regional escalation and seen Israel trade deadly cross-border fire with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Yemen's Houthi rebels, meanwhile, have repeatedly fired missiles and drones at vessels passing through the Red Sea that they say are linked to Israel, in a show of support for Palestinians.

Major shipping firms have diverted their vessels as a result, taking the much lengthier route around Africa.