Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid spoke with Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on Monday, thanking him for his country’s role in negotiating a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group, which went into effect on Sunday night after three days of fighting in and around the Gaza Strip.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the two spoke for an extended period of time about the Palestinian enclave, about the general situation with the Palestinians and the region.
“Prime Minister Lapid said that Egypt has a highly significant position in preserving regional stability and security,” the PMO said.
According to the Israeli readout, the two also discussed Israel’s ongoing normalization efforts with regional countries. In 2020, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco normalized ties with Israel as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords.
In a rare appeal earlier Monday to Gaza residents, Lapid pointed to the Abraham Accords as a potential paradigm of peace.
“We know how to protect ourselves from anyone who threatens us, but we also know how to provide work, livelihood, and a life of dignity to anyone who wants to live in peace by our side,” said the premier. “There is another way to live. The path of the Abraham Accords, of the Negev Summit, of innovation and economy, of regional development and joint projects. The choice is yours. Your future depends on you.”
In his call with the Egyptian leader, Lapid’s office said that al-Sissi “raised the issue of the Palestinians and the prime minister stressed his vision for strengthening the economic situation of the Palestinians.
The Egyptian-mediated ceasefire deal went into effect at 11:30 p.m. Sunday, ending a three-day conflict that began Friday with Israeli strikes that killed a top PIJ commander. Palestinian terrorists subsequently fired around 1,100 rockets toward Israeli territory, while the Israel Defense Forces hit PIJ targets and killed another of the Iran-backed organization’s top military leaders in Gaza.
Egyptian sources told public broadcaster Kan Monday that they faced a number of challenges in talks with PIJ, including demands by the group that Israel immediately release two of its members and that it stop targeting the group’s operatives in the West Bank.
The Egyptian sources said they could not make any promises on the prisoner releases and that a demand that Israel would stop operating against the group in the West Bank “unthinkable,” according to the report.
PIJ has threatened to resume fighting unless Israel releases Bassam Al-Saadi, the head of the organization’s activities in the West Bank who was arrested last week, and Khalil Awawdeh, who is currently on a hunger strike in protest of his administrative detention by Israel.
Israel has refused the demands for their release, seeing a wider opening to negotiate with Hamas, as well as PIJ, in the aftermath of Operation Breaking Dawn to resume stalled prisoner exchange talks.
“We are absolutely aware that there is an opportunity in the aftermath that we don’t want to miss,” an Israel official told reporters in a briefing earlier, highlighting the ongoing attempts to arrange for the return of Israeli civilian captives and bodies of IDF soldiers held by Hamas, among other imperatives.
The Hamas terror group holds two living Israelis — Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — as well as the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin. Hamas has held their remains as a bargaining chip since the 2014 war. Israel and Hamas have held indirect talks over the years in an attempt to reach a prisoner exchange deal. A similar deal in 2011 to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas’s clutches saw 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners released, many of them convicted terrorists.
The Egyptian sources also told Kan that its mediators held direct talks with PIJ’s leadership, currently on a visit to Iran, but had more difficulty communicating with the group’s Gaza-based authorities, as two of its senior commanders had been assassinated by Israel over the past few days.
The terror group’s commander in northern Gaza, Tayseer Jabari, was killed in an Israeli raid last Friday in the opening strike of the IDF’s Operation Breaking Dawn. Israeli leaders said the operation was launched over concrete threats posed by the group to Israeli civilians at the border, following Saadi’s arrest in Jenin last week.
On Saturday night, Israel killed Khaled Mansour, PIJ’s commander in southern Gaza, in an airstrike in the Palestinian city of Rafah.
The Egyptian sources said the assassinations hampered negotiations and that while PIJ’s leadership outside the Palestinian enclave demanded a harsher stance vis-a-vis Israel, authoritative firures in Gaza were eager to end the fighting.
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and has fought Israel in four major operations since Israel left the coastal territory in 2005, also pressured PIJ to consent to the ceasefire, Israelis official said Monday, warning that “[PIJ] is endangering the population.”
Kan reported that Israel sent a message to Hamas via Egypt to stay out of the fighting, and in exchange Israel committed to not targeting its infrastructure or sites in the Palestinian enclave.
A separate Kan report Monday cited an Israeli defense official who said that Israeli gestures toward Hamas in recent months, including raising the quota of work permits for Gazan Palestinians into Israel, and allowing more goods and materials into the Strip, proved useful in letting Hamas stay on the sidelines of the round of violence.
The official said the political echelon and Israeli military leaders would examine if additional gestures aimed at alleviating the economic hardships in the blockaded Palestinian enclave could soon be considered to ensure a longer period of quiet.
Qatar also played an important part in the ceasefire negotiations, with its role praised by both Egypt and Israel. The Egyptian sources told Kan warmer ties between Cairo and Doha in recent years helped talks unfold.
An unnamed Israeli official told Kan Monday that Qatar played a significant role in the negotiations and that Israel believes it has great potential to help rehabilitate Gaza and ensure stability in the region.
Israel does not have formal relations with Qatar, but frequently works with the Gulf nation on Gaza.