Gaza talks continue despite Israel no-show

Israel has sealed off the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, stormed most of its towns and pounded it...
Israel has sealed off the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, stormed most of its towns and pounded it from the sky in retaliation for an attack by Hamas in October last year. Photo: Reuters
Hamas and Egyptian mediators are pressing on with talks in Cairo on securing a ceasefire in Gaza, despite Israel's decision not to send a delegation, as Washington pressed again for a truce, the release of hostages and plan to alleviate the humanitarian catastrophe.

The ceasefire talks are billed as a final hurdle on the way to securing the first extended ceasefire of the five-month-old war, in time for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins on Sunday.

Israel has declined to comment publicly on the Cairo talks which began on Sunday and continued on Monday.

A source told Reuters it was staying away because Hamas had refused to provide a list of hostages taken on October 7 who are still alive, information that the Palestinian militants who control Gaza say they will provide only once they have agreed on terms.

"Talks in Cairo continue for the second day, regardless of whether the occupation's delegation is present in Egypt," a Hamas official told Reuters.

Two Egyptian security sources said mediators were in touch with the Israelis, allowing negotiations to continue despite their absence.

A Palestinian source close to the talks said the discussions remained "uneasy", with Israel sticking to its demand for only a temporary truce to free hostages, while Hamas was seeking assurances that the war would not start up again.

Officials from Hamas, Egypt and Qatar began a second round of talks for the day late on Monday, a Hamas source said.

In Washington, President Joe Biden's administration said a temporary ceasefire was essential to a hostage deal and urged Hamas to accept the terms on offer.

In a sign of the strain between Washington and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government, Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday hosted Benny Gantz, a long-time Netanyahu political rival who joined his war cabinet in a national unity pact at the war's start.

Netanyahu has not been invited to Washington since returning to office a year ago.

After Harris' meeting with Gantz, the administration said in a statement that Harris had discussed the "urgency" of achieving a hostage deal and "expressed her deep concern about the humanitarian conditions in Gaza."

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters the United States still hoped to conclude a ceasefire-for-hostages deal by the start of Ramadan, but that Hamas had not yet agreed.

"Israel bears a responsibility here to do more," Kirby said, echoing unusually forceful language Harris had used on Sunday.

The proposal being discussed envisions a truce of about 40 days, during which militants would release around 40 of the more than 100 hostages they are still holding in return for some 400 detainees from Israeli jails.

Israel would pull back from some areas, more humanitarian aid would be allowed into Gaza, and residents would be permitted to return home.

But the deal did not appear to address directly a Hamas demand for a path to a permanent end to the war. Nor does it resolve the fate of more than half the remaining hostages - Israeli men excluded from both this and earlier agreements covering women, children, the elderly and the wounded.

Israel says it will not end the war until Hamas is eradicated. Hamas says it will not free all its hostages without a deal that ends the war.

The Egyptian security sources said mediators were trying to bridge the gap with guarantees to Hamas on future peace talks and to Israel on the safety of hostages.

A Palestinian official close to the negotiations disputed the US contention that Israel had agreed to the deal and Hamas was holding it up, saying this appeared aimed at deflecting blame from Israel should the talks collapse.


The war erupted after Hamas fighters burst into Israel on October 7 last year, killing 1200 people and abducting 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Since then, Israel has sealed off the Palestinian enclave, stormed most of its towns and pounded it from the sky. Palestinian authorities say more than 30,000 people have been confirmed killed and most of the population has been made homeless. The United Nations says hundreds of thousands face famine.

A Ramadan truce could head off a threatened Israeli assault on Rafah, the town in southern Gaza where more than half the enclave's population has taken shelter.

But recent days have been particularly bloody. Residents have described heavy fighting since Saturday just north of Rafah in Khan Younis and Israeli forces have released video showing buildings obliterated in airstrikes.

In Rafah, airstrikes have been killing families in their homes nightly. At least 14 bodies were laid out at a hospital morgue in Rafah on Monday morning, one body bag partially unzipped so weeping relatives could stroke a dead child's hair.

"I woke up to people collecting bodies. I don't remember anything," wept Nidal al-Gharib, whose wife was among the dead.

Health officials said another Israeli air strike near a hospital in Khan Younis killed 10 people late on Monday.

Violence has also surged in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule, having lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007.

Israeli forces launched their biggest raid for years into the Palestinian Authority's administrative capital Ramallah overnight, killing a 16-year-old in a refugee camp, Palestinian sources said.