Thursday, April 25

Ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas: latest updates

Senior Israeli, Qatari, American and Egyptian officials will meet in Paris on Friday to try to advance a ceasefire deal and the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, an Israeli official and a person informed said Thursday. talks. .

The news came after President Biden’s Middle East envoy met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials in Israel, part of a wave of efforts to negotiate the release of held hostages in Gaza and a pause in the fighting. According to Israeli officials, around 100 households are still detained in Gaza. At least 30 other people died there, according to authorities.

Mossad chief David Barnea; CIA Director William Burns; Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani; and Abbas Kamel, Egypt’s intelligence chief, are among the expected participants, said the Israeli official and the person briefed on the talks, both speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic developments.

Qatar and Egypt serve as intermediaries between Israel and Hamas, who do not negotiate directly.

On Tuesday, Hamas said a delegation led by Ismail Haniyeh was in Cairo to discuss efforts to end the war with Egyptian officials. On Thursday, Hamas issued a statement saying that Haniyeh had met with the Egyptian intelligence chief and his aides and concluded his visit. The statement said that among the topics discussed during the discussions were the end of the war, the return of displaced people to their homes, humanitarian aid, the exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners and “what the occupation plans at al-Aqsa Mosque” during Ramadan.

Efforts to secure a ceasefire agreement have become all the more urgent as the death toll from the four months of war in the Gaza Strip approaches 30,000 Palestinians, according to health officials, and the proposed Israel’s declaration to invade Gaza’s southernmost city, Rafah, is increasing. international alarm.

The talks appeared to have stalled last week after discussions in Cairo failed to produce a breakthrough. Mr. Netanyahu withdrew his negotiators, accusing Hamas of refusing to give in on what he called “ridiculous” demands and vowing to continue the Israeli offensive.

But on Wednesday evening, Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, said there had been momentum toward a new draft deal that indicated a “possibility to move forward.”

And on Thursday, a White House official said that President Biden’s Middle East coordinator, Brett McGurk, had held “constructive” meetings in Israel with Mr. Netanyahu; Yoav Gallant, Israeli Defense Minister; and other members of the Israeli war cabinet.

“The initial indications we are receiving from Brett are that these discussions are going well,” said the official, John Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman. He also said that Mr. McGurk had spent “a good few hours” with Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. McGurk focused on whether negotiators could “cement a hostage deal during an extended pause to bring all of these hostages home to where they belong and get a reduction in violence so that we can get more humanitarian aid,” Mr. Kirby said.

Mr. Gallant, after meeting Mr. McGurk on Thursday in Tel Aviv, said the Israeli government would “expand the authority granted to our host negotiators.”

A person briefed on the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were indications that Hamas and Israel were prepared to negotiate an interim deal that could exchange 35 medically frail or older Israeli hostages, against an unknown number of Palestinian prisoners. .

Mr Kirby said Mr McGurk intended to pressure Israel’s war cabinet over its plans for a military operation in Rafah.

“Nothing has changed in our vision that any operation in Rafah without proper consideration and a credible executive plan for the safety and security of more than a million Palestinians seeking refuge in Rafah would be a disaster,” Mr. .Kirby. “We would not support that.”

Earlier this week, the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, saying it feared it could disrupt negotiations on the taking of hostages.

Israeli and U.S. officials have argued that an immediate ceasefire would allow Hamas to regroup and strengthen itself in Gaza, and would reduce pressure to reach a deal to free hostages held in the territory.

The United States has drafted a rival resolution, still in the early stages of negotiations, that calls for a temporary humanitarian ceasefire “as soon as possible” and the release of the hostages.

Adam Selle And Cassandra Vinograd reports contributed.