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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Why Egypt Is Key To Hostages-For-Ceasefire Negotiations — And A Deal May Be Close

Perhaps even more pivotal than Qatar, Egypt is accelerating its efforts to mediate between Hamas and Israel.

Photo of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi meets with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Cairo

Elias Kassem

CAIRO — There is no shortage of parties involved in negotiations for the release of hostages held by Hamas, including the more than a dozen countries whose citizens are among those held captive. Yet to track the likelihood of an imminent deal, keep your eye on Egypt.

Asharq Al-Awsat daily reported Thursday that Cairo is intensifying its efforts to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas that would include a ceasefire and the release of hostages held by the militant group, as well as the freeing of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, the London-based Saudi-owned daily said.

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Citing unidentified sources, the report said the latest round of talks in Cairo have achieved progress on the exact terms of the deal, with “more flexibility” now being shown by the parties.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry Sameh Shoukry once again called for a cease-fire for humanitarian aid to flow to Gaza’s 2.3 million people.

“The humanitarian situation in Gaza is unbearable,” he told a joint news conference in Cairo Wednesday with Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin. “The main elements ... are the necessity of a cease-fire and the allowance of aid.”

Egypt’s state-owned media reported that Ronen Bar, head of the Shin Bet security agency, met on Tuesday in Cairo with senior Egyptian officials for talks that focused on a humanitarian ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners.

Cairo as a pivotal player 

Following Bar’s visit to Cairo, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster quoted a source it said involved in the talks that the warring parties were “the closest” they have been at any point to a deal, according the Times of Israel daily.

The progress comes less than a week after Abbas Kamel, head of the Egyptian Intelligence Service, met in Cairo with a Hamas delegation, chaired by the group’s exiled leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Asharq Al-Awsat reported that Israel’s insistence on “completing its military objective” of destroying Hamas’ military capabilities hampers efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement. However, the latest rounds of talks showed “flexibility to allow partial solutions,” the report said.

Egypt’s efforts to establish a ceasefire in Gaza are coordinated with the U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, Israel’s close ally, and the tiny Arab Gulf state of Qatar, another player in the indirect negotiations that enjoys close ties with Hamas, the Saudi newspaper reported.

Cairo is a pivotal player in the ongoing efforts to strike an accord. As a regional power and the first Arab country to establish diplomatic ties with Israel in the late 1970s, Egypt also has strong historic ties to the U.S. It’s positioning means that Egypt has long mediated between Israel and the Palestinian militant groups in previous bouts of violence, most recently in the 2021 war.

Qatar, meanwhile, has provided badly-needed funds that helped shore up Hamas’ government in Gaza in recent years with Israel’s approval. The small oil-producing nation also enjoys close ties with Iran, the main backer of anti-Israel militant groups in the region.

Photo of pictures of hostages held in Gaza laid out on the beach in Santa Barbara

The Santa Barbara Jewish Community gather to demand the immediate release of the hostages still being held in Gaza

Amy Katz/ZUMA

A potential hostage deal 

On Tuesday, U.S. President Biden told reporters that he believes a deal can be reached to release hostages, following his call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during which both leaders “discussed at length” efforts to free hostages, according to the White House.

I think the less I say about it, the more I will increase the chances that it materializes.

In an Interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Netanyahu said there “could be” a potential hostage deal, but declined to elaborate further details.

“I think the less I say about it, the more I will increase the chances that it materializes,” said the Israeli leader, who is facing increasing pressure from families of the hostages and others inside Israel to strike a deal.

Earlier in the week, Reuters reported that Israel and Hamas were negotiating the release of only 50 of the more than 200 hostages, in return for a three-day cease-fire. The talks also include the release of many women and children in Israeli prisons, as well as the opening of more humanitarian aid to flow into the coastal territory, the agency said.

The conflict was triggered by Hamas’ wide-scale attack into southern Israel on Oct. 7. Israeli authorities say more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in that attack. The Palestinian militants captured some 240 men, women and children, and took them hostages inside Gaza, they said.

Israel first responded with a destructive air campaign across Gaza, before its ground forces invaded the northern half of the strip, including Gaza City, where Hamas has its headquarters.

More than 11,200 Palestinians have been killed, including thousands of women and children, according to Palestinian health authorities.

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