ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Israel to send delegation to Cairo hostage talks as Biden touts push for 6-week pause

Jerusalem to dispatch Mossad, Shin Bet heads to Egyptian capital following US pressure, as tentative negotiations resume on deal for truce, hostage release

US President Joe Biden speaks as Jordan's King Abdullah II listens in the Cross Hall of the White House, Feb. 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP/Andrew Harnik)
US President Joe Biden speaks as Jordan's King Abdullah II listens in the Cross Hall of the White House, Feb. 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

Following US pressure, Israel will be sending a delegation to Cairo on Tuesday for talks on a framework that will see the release of hostages and achieve an extended pause, according to Hebrew media reports.

Senior officials from the United States, Egypt, and Qatar are expected in the Egyptian capital to resume negotiations on the three-phase deal, sources familiar with the matter said.

The framework was hammered out in Paris last month by CIA Director Bill Burns, his Israeli counterpart David Barnea of the Mossad, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani, who also serves as foreign minister, and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.

It reportedly envisions a three-phase humanitarian pause — with 35 to 40 Israeli hostages, including women, men over the age of 60 and those with serious medical conditions, released during the first six-week phase. Israeli soldiers and the bodies of killed hostages would be released in the second and third phases. Details regarding the latter phases, as well as the number and identities of Palestinian security prisoners who would be released by Israel, were to be discussed in subsequent negotiations if the sides both agreed to the Paris proposal. Other reports presented different versions of the framework, which has not been officially published.

Israel has waffled on sending representatives to the Cairo talks this week after Hamas offered a counterproposal that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called “delusional.” The Palestinian terror group’s demands include a permanent ceasefire, a withdrawal of troops from Gaza, reconstruction of the enclave, and some 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, among them terror masterminds, in exchange for the remaining hostages taken on October 7.

But top officials from the United States have said that, regardless of some of the “nonstarters,” there is space to push for an agreement and that it was Washington’s intention to do so.

In a call on Sunday between US President Joe Biden and Netanyahu, Biden reportedly encouraged the Israeli premier to send a delegation to Cairo to join the talks.

Barnea, along with Shin Bet head Ronen Bar and Nitzan Alon, who is commanding intelligence efforts to find the abductees, will lead the delegation, Channel 12 reported.

Ronen Bar, head of the Shin Bet security services, left, 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)

Biden said on Monday that the US was pushing for a six-week pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas as a stepping stone toward a longer ceasefire.

Speaking after meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah at the White House, the US president said the hostage deal framework he helped craft with Egyptian and Qatari mediators would see a humanitarian pause of at least six weeks, “which we could then [use] to build something more enduring.” He added that key elements were in place but “gaps” remained.

He said he has encouraged Israeli leaders to “to keep working to achieve the deal” despite the rejection of Hamas’s demands.

Biden, who has shown increasing frustration with Netanyahu for not heeding his advice, said Washington was working with allies in the region on a deal “to find the means to bring all the hostages home, to ease the humanitarian crisis, to end the terror threat and to bring peace to Gaza and Israel through a two-state solution.”

Israel has been willing to accept talks based on the original Paris framework, which reportedly envisions a three-phase humanitarian pause, with 35 to 40 Israeli hostages — women, men older than 60 and those with serious medical conditions — released during the first six-week phase. Israeli soldiers and the bodies of killed hostages would be released in the second and third phases.

Details regarding the latter phases, as well as the number and identities of Palestinian security prisoners who would be released by Israel, were to be discussed in subsequent negotiations if the sides both agreed to the Paris proposal. Other reports presented different versions of the framework, which has not been officially published.

The negotiations in Cairo on Tuesday will come as Israel is preparing an offensive on Rafah — Gaza’s southernmost city and the last Hamas stronghold in the enclave — and amid mounting concerns that such a move could derail the hostage talks as Hamas has threatened.

The US has voiced its opposition to the operation without a “credible” plan to protect some 1 million civilians who have sought refuge there from months of Israeli bombardment.

Biden reiterated those concerns Monday in the statement alongside Abdullah, saying that no Israeli military operation should move forward in Rafah “without a credible plan for ensuring the safety and support” of civilians there.

“We’ve also been clear from the start that we oppose any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza,” Biden said.

People stand around craters caused by Israeli bombardment in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on February 12, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Netanyahu has said Israel was working on a plan to ensure “safe passage” for civilians in Rafah.

In his remarks Tuesday, Biden said the US shares Israel’s goal of defeating Hamas, whose terrorists hide in tunnels beneath civilian infrastructure, “including schools, playgrounds and neighborhoods” but also acknowledges that the Palestinian people “have also suffered unimaginable pain and loss.”

In some four months of war, more than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. These figures cannot be independently verified, are believed to include fatalities caused by failed rocket fire by Gaza terror groups, and do not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Israel says it has killed 10,000 Hamas gunmen in Gaza, as well as 1,000 terrorists in Israel on October 7 when thousands rampaged through southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages.

It is believed that 130 hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that.

Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 29 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

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