Senior Hamas delegation set to arrive in Cairo for Egypt-backed ceasefire talks

Egypt says it is awaiting responses to its proposed multi-stage plan to end the war, a day after Netanyahu hinted at progress in talks to free hostages

Jordan's King Abdullah II (L) walks alongside Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in Cairo on December 27, 2023. (Jordanian Royal Palace / AFP)
Jordan's King Abdullah II (L) walks alongside Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in Cairo on December 27, 2023. (Jordanian Royal Palace / AFP)

A high-level Hamas delegation was due in Cairo on Friday for Egyptian-backed talks purportedly aimed at trying to end the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, after Egypt put forward a multi-stage plan earlier this week, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted on Thursday at progress in talks for a hostage release.

A Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the delegation in Cairo would “give the response of the Palestinian factions, including several observations” regarding the Egyptian proposal, recently put to officials from both Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups who are said to have rejected a key component of the plan they cede power in Gaza.

Hamas would also seek “guarantees for a complete Israeli military withdrawal” from Gaza, the official said.

The proposal provides for a Palestinian government of technocrats after talks involving “all Palestinian factions,” which would be responsible for governing and rebuilding in post-war Gaza.

Egypt’s State Information Services chief Dia Rashwan said the plan was “intended to bring together the views of all parties concerned, with the aim of ending the shedding of Palestinian blood.”

On Thursday, Rashwan said that Egypt was waiting to get responses on the proposal from the parties involved, and will provide details about the plan once those responses are received.

A picture taken from a position in southern Israel along the border with the Gaza Strip shows troops keeping position, on December 29, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and Hamas. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

According to a Haaretz report earlier this week, the Palestinian Authority is also slated to send a delegation to Cairo to take part in talks about the makeup of a post-war Gaza.

Israeli officials have said repeatedly since the start of the war, including this week, that it has no intention of ending fighting in Gaza until Hamas has been toppled, although behind the scenes, sources have indicated that the Egyptian plan could serve as the basis for future negotiations.

The terms of that plan, backed by Qatar, reportedly include a first stage of a two-week halt to the fighting, including the release of hostages and Palestinian security prisoners; a second stage featuring an Egyptian-sponsored “Palestinian national talk” aimed at forming a technocratic government in the West Bank and Gaza; and a third stage of a comprehensive ceasefire and the release of the remaining Israeli hostages, as well as a number of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails.

But Hamas officials have repeatedly insisted that the terror group will not hold talks while fighting is ongoing, demanding the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza as a pre-condition for future hostage releases — a nonstarter for Israel.

Israelis march to call for the release of hostages abducted by Hamas to Gaza during the October 7 onslaught, in Jerusalem on December 28, 2023. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Meeting with the families of hostages in Tel Aviv on Thursday, Netanyahu hinted at progress in talks to free their loved ones but declined to elaborate on the details.

“Negotiations are ongoing as we speak. I can’t go into details on the status – we’re working to bring everyone home. That’s our goal,” he said. “We’re not giving up on anyone.”

According to a Channel 12 report, a new deal would bring about the release of some 40 remaining female, elderly and sick hostages in exchange for a roughly two-week truce and the release of a large group of Palestinian prisoners — more than in the previous deal — including those convicted of murder. The previous deal did not see the release of Palestinian prisoners with such convictions.

US President Joe Biden spoke on Tuesday with Qatar’s ruling emir, Amir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, to discuss “the urgent effort to secure the release of all remaining hostages held by Hamas, including American citizens,” according to the White House.

It is believed that 129 hostages abducted on October 7 remain in Gaza — including 23 bodies — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops.

The bodies of 11 hostages have been recovered, including three hostages who were mistakenly shot dead by IDF troops. 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.

Hamas abducted approximately 240 hostages during its October 7 massacre, which saw around 3,000 terrorists burst across the border from Gaza by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in a murderous rampage across southern Israel.

In response, Israel vowed to destroy Hamas and launched a wide-scale military campaign which Gazan authorities say has killed more than 21,000 people, an unverified figure which includes both civilians and Hamas members as well as those killed in failed rocket launches. According to IDF assessments, some 8,000 terrorists have been killed in the fighting, in addition to roughly 1,000 killed on October 7 and in the few days after.

Close to 170 IDF soldiers have died fighting in the military’s ground operation in Gaza, according to the IDF.

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