Senior government official says PM 'desperate' for deal

‘Critical days’: Israeli team gets green light for next round of Gaza truce talks

Senior Egyptian official says temporary ceasefire likely over Eid al-Fitr holiday this week; Hamas official acknowledges flexibility on both sides, but says it might not be enough

People visit Hostages Square in Tel Aviv on April 7, 2024, six months after Hamas's October 7 massacre, which saw terrorists kill some 1,200 people and seize 253 hostages - 129 of whom are still held hostage in Gaza. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
People visit Hostages Square in Tel Aviv on April 7, 2024, six months after Hamas's October 7 massacre, which saw terrorists kill some 1,200 people and seize 253 hostages - 129 of whom are still held hostage in Gaza. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

An Israeli delegation is set to take part in the latest round of negotiations in Cairo aimed at reaching a truce in the Gaza conflict and a hostage release deal, with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr — marking the end of Ramadan — appearing to emerge as a target date for a temporary ceasefire.

The statement from an Israeli government official on Sunday, confirming its participation in yet another round of negotiations, appeared to be the first official confirmation that Jerusalem would send a delegation to talks led by Qatar, Egypt, and the United States, expected to resume Sunday evening.

A Hamas official said Saturday that the terror group would be sending a delegation in response to an invitation extended by Egyptian mediators. It also reiterated its demands that any hostage release be conditioned on a full ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from the Strip, along with the return of displaced Palestinians to northern Gaza — conditions rejected by Israel.

Ministers and other officials familiar with the details of the talks told Channel 12 on Saturday that the main sticking point in the talks was the question of the return of displaced Palestinians to the northern Gaza Strip.

CIA Director Bill Burns is expected to attend Sunday’s talks, along with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. Among the Israeli officials expected to attend are Mossad chief David Barnea and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar.

According to Kan news, the Israeli delegation will depart with a broader mandate than in previous rounds of talks. A source with knowledge of the details of the negotiations told the public broadcaster that “Israel will be required to make difficult decisions at this stage, and when it is without a strategy, then it is impossible to get far.”

File: Ronen Bar head of the Shin Bet security services (L) with Mossad chief David Barnea at the annual IDF memorial ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War at Yad La-Shiryon, September 27, 2023. (Jonathan Shaul/Flash90)

A senior Egyptian official told the Qatari-backed, London-based New Arab news site that a humanitarian truce was likely over the Eid al-Fitr holiday, from April 9-12.

“With the presence of the delegation of the Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] and the head of the CIA, William Burns, in Cairo, the agreement is approaching intensely, and it is possible that the announcement will be made from Cairo,” the official said.

The source said that both sides had shown more flexibility in the agreement due to increased US pressure in recent days.

Ahead of the weekend talks, Biden wrote to the leaders of Egypt and Qatar urging them to secure commitments from Hamas to “agree to and abide by a deal,” a senior US administration official told AFP. During a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, Biden pushed him to “fully empower” his negotiators to reach a deal.

Hamas official Bassem Naim expressed skepticism that a deal could be reached while acknowledging that both sides had shown flexibility.

“This is true, but the change is still too short to bring about the desired” results in the negotiations, he told The New Arab.

A senior Israeli official told Channel 12 news: “We are in critical days that we have not seen the likes of since the first deal” in November, when dozens of hostages held by Hamas were exchanged for Palestinian security prisoners detained by Israel, during a week-long truce.

Netanyahu is “desperate for a [ceasefire and hostage] deal,” a senior source in the government told Sky News on Sunday, adding that “everything you see happening today is linked to hostage negotiations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the weekly cabinet meeting, April 7, 2024. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

The source said that the deadly strike on the World Central Kitchen food aid convoy, described by the military as a “tragic mistake,” has “changed everything,” as international pressure was increased on Israel to reach a deal.

In opening remarks to the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu emphasized his policy that there would be no break in the fighting without the return of the hostages.

He said “Israel is not the one preventing a deal. Hamas is preventing a deal.”

“Its extreme demands were intended to bring about an end to the war and leave it intact. To ensure its survival, its rehabilitation, its ability to endanger our citizens and our soldiers,” the premier continued. “Surrendering to Hamas’s demands will allow it to try to repeat the crimes of October 7 again and again, as it promised to do.”

The war in Gaza erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, mostly civilians. It is believed that 129 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says that more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in the ensuing war, an unverified figure which is believed to include at least 13,000 Hamas operatives Israel says it has killed during the fighting. The IDF also says it killed 1,000 terrorists in Israel on and soon after October 7. Some 260 IDF soldiers have been killed in Gaza.

Six months of battles have flattened enormous parts of the Strip, and aid agencies warn that many residents are on the brink of famine due to the difficulties of aid distribution.

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