Israel no-show at Gaza ceasfire talks

Israel has boycotted Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo after Hamas rejected its demand for a complete list naming hostages that are still alive, an Israeli newspaper reported.

Mar 04, 2024, updated Mar 04, 2024
The rubble of a Palestinian home destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3. Photo: EPA

The rubble of a Palestinian home destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3. Photo: EPA

A Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo for the talks, billed as a possible final hurdle before an agreement that would halt the fighting for six weeks. But by early evening there was no sign of the Israelis.

“There is no Israeli delegation in Cairo,” Ynet, the online version of Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, quoted unidentified Israeli officials as saying on Sunday.

“Hamas refuses to provide clear answers and therefore there is no reason to dispatch the Israeli delegation.”

Washington has insisted the ceasefire deal is close and should be in place in time to halt fighting by the start of Ramadan, a week away. But the warring sides have given little sign in public of backing away from previous demands.

After the Hamas delegation arrived, a Palestinian official told Reuters the deal was “not yet there”. From the Israeli side, there was no official comment.

One source briefed on the talks had said on Saturday that Israel could stay away from Cairo unless Hamas first presented its full list of hostages who are still alive. A Palestinian source told Reuters Hamas had so far rejected that demand.

In past negotiations Hamas has sought to avoid discussing the wellbeing of individual hostages until after terms for their release are set.

A US official told reporters on Saturday: “The path to a ceasefire right now literally at this hour is straightforward. And there’s a deal on the table. There’s a framework deal.”

Israel had agreed to the framework and it was now up to Hamas to respond, the US official said.

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An agreement would bring the first extended truce of the war, which has raged for five months so far with just a week-long pause in November. Dozens of hostages held by the militants would be freed in return for hundreds of Palestinian detainees.

Aid would be ramped up for Gazans pushed to the verge of famine. Fighting would cease in time to head off a massive planned Israeli assault on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are penned in against the enclave’s southern border fence abutting Egypt. Israeli forces would pull back from some areas and let Gazans return to abandoned homes.

But the proposal appears to stop short of fulfilling the main Hamas demand for a permanent end to the war, while also leaving unresolved the fate of more than half of the more than 100 remaining hostages – including Israeli men not covered by terms to free women, children, the elderly and wounded.

Egyptian mediators have suggested those issues could be set aside for now, with assurances to resolve them in later stages. A Hamas source told Reuters the militants were still holding out for a “package deal”.

At a morgue outside a Rafah hospital on Sunday morning, women wept and wailed beside rows of bodies of 14 members of the Abu Anza family killed in an air strike overnight, including two infant twins, a boy and girl.

“My heart is gone,” wailed their mother, Rania Abu Anza, who also lost her husband in the attack.

Gaza authorities said at least eight people were killed on Sunday when a truck carrying food aid from a Kuwaiti charity was hit by an air strike. There was no immediate Israeli comment.

The war began in October after Hamas fighters stormed through Israeli towns killing 1200 people and capturing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Since then, Israeli forces have killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities, with thousands more dead feared.

Swathes of the Gaza Strip have been laid to waste, nearly the entire population has been made homeless, and the United Nations estimates a quarter of Gazans are on the verge of famine.

Washington dropped 38,000 meals from military aircraft into Gaza on Saturday, though aid agencies say this was only enough to have a marginal impact given the scale of the need.


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