Gaza truce negotiations held behind closed doors have resumed, with the focus on another round of prisoner and hostage exchanges between Israel and Hamas, Egyptian officials have said.
They said negotiations involving mid-level officials and diplomats from Qatar, Israel, Egypt, the US and, indirectly, Hamas are taking place in Doha, Tel Aviv and Cairo, describing them as “intermittent” and lacking the urgency that produced a temporary, week-long truce earlier this month.
Previously, the talks involved the heads of the CIA, Mossad, Egyptian intelligence and Qatar’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. Hamas’s political leaders based in Qatar had also been involved.
The Egyptian officials, who regularly receive in-depth briefings on the process, spoke to media as Israel began a ground offensive in the south of the Gaza Strip, which is crowded with about one million displaced people. The ferocious resumption of Israel’s offensive is likely to complicate the negotiations.
They spoke only days after a week-long truce collapsed, with Israel and Hamas blaming each other for the failure to renew it. The temporary truce had allowed for significant humanitarian aid to reach Gaza and the release of scores of women and children from among hostages held by Hamas, as well as Palestinians detained in Israeli jails.
The Gaza war began on October 7 when Hamas went on a deadly rampage in southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages back to the coastal enclave.
Vowing to annihilate Hamas, Israel responded with relentless bombardment that has so far killed more than 15,000, including 5,000 children, displaced the majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents and wiped out many built-up areas.
“The negotiations are continuing but in an off-and-on pattern and shifting from Qatar to Israel and Egypt,” said one of the officials. “The Israelis’ main motive in continuing the negotiations is to keep alive the conversation on the release of hostages still held by Hamas, especially military personnel, and ensure that no harm comes to them while in captivity.”
Hamas, said the officials, is believed to be holding at least 50 active Israeli military personnel and is insisting it will exchange them only if Israel is willing to release every Palestinian it has in its prisons. There are about 7,000 Palestinians held in Israeli custody.
Among those it wants Israel to free are Marwan Barghouti, a popular leader of the Palestinian mainstream Fatah faction sentenced to life in prison in 2004; and Ibrahim Hamed, the West Bank commander of Hamas’s military wing who has been held since 2006 and is serving 54 life sentences.
This is likely to prove to be a tall order. But Hamas is convinced that the relatively large number of Israeli soldiers it is holding hostage is giving it its strongest bargaining position since it seized power in Gaza in 2007, said the officials.
The current war is the fifth between Hamas and Israel since 2008.