Understanding on prisoners, truce as Gaza talks resume

Published February 26, 2024
A woman walks past the collapsed domes of Al-Faruq mosque, levelled by Israeli bombardment in the 
Rafah area of the southern Gaza Strip, on Sunday.—AFP
A woman walks past the collapsed domes of Al-Faruq mosque, levelled by Israeli bombardment in the Rafah area of the southern Gaza Strip, on Sunday.—AFP

WASHINGTON: White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday said talks have reached a tentative understanding to secure the release of prisoners held by Hamas in exchange for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza.

Last week witnessed hectic diplomatic activity as multinational talks were held in Paris and Doha with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani planning to visit the French capital in a couple of days.

The talks are a “continuation of what was discussed in Paris” and “will be followed by meetings in Cairo,” Al-Qahera News, which is linked to Egyptian state intelligence services, reported earlier.

In negotiations, Hamas has demanded a ceasefire and Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed as “delusional” as he vows to press further into the territory.

Nearly 29,700 Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes so far; US allies voice frustration at Washington’s policy

“The representatives of Israel, the United States, Egypt and Qatar met in Paris and came to an understanding among the four of them about what the basic contours of a hostage deal for temporary ceasefire would look like,” Mr Sullivan told CNN.

However, the intense diplomacy has little effect on the ground as the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said on Sunday that at least 29,692 people have been killed in the Palestinian territory during Israeli strikes. The toll includes 86 fatalities in the past 24 hours, while 69,879 people have been injured since the conflict began on October 7.

Qatar and Egypt serve as intermediaries between Hamas and Israel.

The US media reported that Hamas was briefed on the Paris talks on Sunday and it has not yet agreed to the deal.

Mr Sullivan said “there will have to be indirect discussions by Qatar and Egypt with Hamas because ultimately they will have to agree to release the hostages”.

His comments follow an Israeli official’s statement to CNN that Tel Aviv will send a delegation to Qatar to continue talks on the release of prisoners and a pause in military operations in Gaza.

Axios, a US media outlet, mentioned that the delegation would have a “limited mandate” and that the talks would be “technical”.

Responding to a question about Israeli premier’s post-war Gaza plan, Mr Sullivan expressed concerns, saying, “From what I’ve seen in the reporting, I have some concerns.”

On Thursday, Mr Netanyahu presented a document to his cabinet, seeking open-ended control over security and civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip.

The plan was swiftly rejected by Palestinian leaders, and the US media noted that it runs counter to Washington’s vision for a two-state solution.

Mr Sullivan’s remarks indicated that Washington is still pursuing its plan, which includes unconditional release of all Hamas prisoners and offers security guarantees to both Israelis and Palestinians.

In a later interview to Fox News, Mr Sullivan mentioned talking to his Israeli counterparts to “hear more because they’ve gone out in the press without coming to us to talk through all of this”.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that the Biden administration’s continued support for Israel had isolated America in the international community.

Washington’s isolation became apparent at the G20 meeting in Rio this week, where world leaders made no effort to hide their feelings. In private discussions, US allies openly expressed frustration, indicating that they believe US support for a ceasefire could play a pivotal role in preventing additional loss of life.

Brazil’s Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira criticised the UN Security Council’s “unacceptable paralysis” and highlighted the cost of “innocent lives.”

South Africa reiterated its claim that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza. Australia’s representative warned Israel against a planned military campaign in Rafah.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2024

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