Hamas head in Cairo as momentum builds towards new Israel-Hamas truce talks

The visit comes as Israel’s government signals it is open to another truce, but key sticking points remain.

This handout picture provided by the Iranian foreign ministry on December 20, 2023, shows Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaking to journalists as he welcomes the Iranian foreign minister (not in the picture), in Doha. (Photo by Iranian Foreign Ministry / AFP) / XGTY / XGTY / === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS === - XGTY / XGTY / === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS === /
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh [Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AFP]

The head of Hamas’s political bureau has arrived in Cairo for talks on the Gaza war, as hopes grow that the Palestinian group and Israel could agree terms for another ceasefire.

Ismail Haniyeh arrived in the Egyptian capital on Wednesday to meet with Cairo’s spy chief and other Egyptian officials, who are acting as key mediators. Meanwhile, Israeli officials have indicated in talks with US and Qatari representatives that Tel Aviv could be open to a truce deal.

Haniyeh planned to discuss “stopping the aggression” in Gaza, a Hamas source told the AFP news agency. The world is pressing both Israel and the Palestinian group to agree terms to halt the bombardment in Gaza, which after 10 weeks of devastating Israeli attacks has killed nearly 20,000 people, including 7,729 children, and left 1.9 million displaced and in need of water, food and medicine.

During a truce that ran from November 24 to December 1, international agencies were able to ship in desperately needed aid. Israel released 240 Palestinian prisoners and Hamas returned 100 Israelis and others taken captive during its attacks on October 7, which killed around 1,200 and sparked Israel’s vicious retaliation on the enclave.

Hamas took a total of 240 Israeli captives in an unprecedented assault on Israeli territory on October 7 that also killed 1,200 people, mostly Israeli civilians, Israel says, kicking off the current war.

Israel has since continued to pound Gaza, claiming it must wipe out Hamas. But the two sides have recently relaunched indirect talks, mediated by Egypt and Qatar, aimed at instituting another ceasefire and freeing more captives in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The talks in Cairo will also include a potential “agreement for the release of [Palestinian] prisoners”, the source said.

‘Positive’ indications

Haniyeh’s visit comes after Israel’s government signalled that it could be open to agreeing another truce. Pressure is mounting on it to bring home the 129 captives Hamas still holds.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking to captives’ families on Tuesday, said intensive diplomatic efforts were underway to bring back their relatives. This included a Monday meeting in Warsaw between Israel’s intelligence chief, Qatar’s prime minister, and the head of the US’s CIA, in which officials hammered out possible ceasefire conditions.

That meeting was “quite positive”, said Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Doha. He added that Qatari negotiators, who were the main brokers in the previous temporary ceasefire, are now “in touch with both Hamas and the Israelis on the potential to resume talks”.

Israeli media reported that Tel Aviv is pursuing a “humanitarian” deal to secure the release by Hamas of female and elderly captives, as well as any that are physically or mentally ill. The government reportedly believes such a group would number 30-40 captives.

‘Different interpretations’

However, the demands of Israel and Hamas reveal that there are major sticking points to any new deal remaining.

Hardliners in the Israeli government and military officials are eyeing more months of combat. Netanyahu, who is under significant political pressure at home, has pledged to continue Israel’s military offensive until achieving “full victory” over Hamas.

Hamas, for its part, has said it will not release any more captives until the Israeli bombardment ends.

Haniyeh, speaking to Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on Tuesday night, seemed to hold firm to this position, saying the group was ready for another deal, but only if Israel first ceased its attacks.

“The problem this time is different interpretations from Israel and Hamas,” said Ahelbarra. “Hamas insists this time the deal cannot be a prisoner exchange solely – it has to be based on a permanent ceasefire.”

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Hamas official Ghazi Hamad said that once the war stopped, Hamas is ready to negotiate a significant compromise on the exchange of prisoners.

“Our vision is very clear: We want to stop the aggression,” he said. “What is going on in the ground is a big catastrophe.”

However, he added that brief pauses in the conflict would not be in the interest of Hamas or Palestinians.

“Israel will take the card of the hostages and after that they will start a new round of mass killing and massacres against our people,” he said. “We will not play this game.”

However, Ahelbarra noted that there are “strong indications that there is a push by all parties to come up with an agreement” in the upcoming days.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies