Israel, Hamas resume Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo amid fears of all-out Rafah invasion

Israel, Hamas resume Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo amid fears of all-out Rafah invasion
A deal between Israel and Hamas seems unlikely despite US willingness to find common ground, as Israel insists on carrying out a full-scale attack on Rafah.
5 min read
08 May, 2024
Despite the talks and whether an agreement can be reached, Israel has threatened to invade Rafah [Getty]

Israeli and Hamas delegations are back in Cairo to resume talks on a truce in Gaza, days after the Palestinian group agreed to a proposal which has so far been rejected by Israel.

Hamas announced on Monday evening that it agreed to a proposed deal presented by mediators Egypt and Qatar, which Israeli officials said did not meet "Israel’s essential requirements", despite it being reportedly being very similar to a previous offer accepted by Israel.

The continued talks, ongoing for months, come in light of Israel’s reported preparations for a full-scale invasion of Rafah, which has already been attacked in recent days. An estimated 1.4 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering in the Gaza Strip’s southernmost city.

The US believes that remaining differences regarding the proposal presented by Egypt and Qatar "can be overcome", Reuters reported.

White House spokesperson John Kirby said Hamas presented a revised proposal and the new text suggests the remaining gaps can "absolutely be closed" but declined to specify what those were.

An agreement appears distant due to Israel repeatedly boasting it would invade Rafah whether an agreement is reached or not, while Hamas warned an assault on the border would kill any hopes for a ceasefire.

The Hamas delegation in Cairo is being led by Khalil al-Hayya, the deputy head of the group’s political bureau, senior official Zaher Jabarin, as well as Ghazi Hamad and Muhammad Nasr. Israel reportedly sent a mid-level team to the Egyptian capital.

The Israeli Channel 12 network said the delegation's mission in Cairo was only to listen and ask questions regarding the latest Egyptian-Qatari proposal which Hamas agreed to, without the power to conduct any real negotiations.

Thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to demand their government accept the deal and free the remaining hostages still being held in Gaza.

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Hamas says the 7 October attack - which left 1,170 people dead, according to Israeli officials, and saw about 250 others taken hostage - was in retaliation for Israel’s continued aggression against the Palestinians and its occupation of Palestinian land.  

Israel then unleashed a brutal air and ground campaign on the Gaza Strip, so far killing over 34,800 people, mostly women and children.

The offensive has pushed the enclave to the brink of famine, laid waste to much of the territory, and led to widespread accusations of war crimes and genocide.

Ball no longer in Hamas's court

Political analyst Ali Bakeer told The New Arab that Netanyahu had been betting on Hamas refusing the proposal, thus giving the Israeli PM a pretext to invade Rafah.

"I think Netanyahu was banking on the scenario in which Hamas refuses to agree to the US-backed proposal by Qatar and Egypt so that he can use another excuse to invade Rafah and satisfy the ultra-radicals in his government," Bakeer told The New Arab.

"But when Hamas did agree, it further cornered him [Netanyahu] and the US administration," he said, adding that this put the Biden administration in an awkward position.

Hamas' acceptance of the deal has put all parties, especially Egypt, in a difficult position, Bakeer continued, as it proved that they can't guarantee Israel's commitments.

Prior to Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken blamed Hamas for obstructing a deal, saying the ball was in the Palestinian group’s court. Hamas strongly rejected Blinken's accusations and dubbed him Israel’s foreign minister "not America's".

Israel’s far-right reject talks

For his part, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich considered on Tuesday that sending a delegation to Cairo was a "mistake", as he called on Netanyahu not to surrender to international pressure.

"This is the right time to put more and more pressure on the necks of [Hamas’ Gaza leader Yahya] Sinwar and Hamas until they are eliminated," the leader of the Religious Zionist party said.

The Israeli settler from the occupied West Bank, who previously called for the annihilation of Rafah, said the conversation should be "with fire only".

"You must not surrender to international pressure, and you must not stop until victory and the enemy’s surrender. This is our war of independence and we must win it," he continued.

He said three things need to be done to speed up Israel’s victory over Hamas, including occupying Rafah, the destruction of Hamas’ tunnels, and completely taking control of the Philadelphi Corridor, the land barrier between the Gaza enclave and Egypt where the Rafah border crossing is located.

Israel on Monday ordered Palestinians in eastern Rafah to evacuate, then on Tuesday took control of the area’s border crossing with Egypt – the first time this has happened since 2005.

Egypt has previously warned Israel against taking control of the corridor, warning it would jeapordise ties between the two countries established in the 1979 peace treaty.

An Egyptian source told The New Arab’s sister site, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, on Tuesday that Cairo sent a letter of protest to Tel Aviv against the Israeli army’s incursion into the Rafah crossing and the Philadelphi Corridor, warning that an Israeli intransigence may push Egypt to review its role in mediation efforts.

Conflicting reports on Kerem Shalom crossing 

Israel said it reopened the Kerem Shalom border crossing to humanitarian aid for Gaza on Wednesday, four days after closing it in response to a rocket attack that killed four soldiers and claimed by Hamas.

"Trucks from Egypt carrying humanitarian aid, including food, water, shelter equipment, medicine and medical equipment donated by the international community are already arriving at the crossing," the army said in a joint statement with COGAT, the defence ministry body that oversees Palestinian civil affairs.

The supplies will be transferred to the Gaza side of the crossing after undergoing inspection, the statement said.

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However. the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, contradicted the statement and said that the crossing remained closed, with no time given for its re-opening.

Throughout the war on Gaza, Israel has severely desperately needed aid deliveries, contributing to malnutrition, starvation, and disease in the devastated territory. Israeli settlers have also attacked trucks carrying aid to the enclave, destroying their contents.

(Agencies contributed to this report)