Cairo truce talks at an impasse as Ramazan looms

Published March 7, 2024
Palestinians transport flour bags on a truck as humanitarian aid arrives in Gaza City on Wednesday. The UN has warned of an impending famine, with acutely malnourished children being treated at hospitals.—AFP
Palestinians transport flour bags on a truck as humanitarian aid arrives in Gaza City on Wednesday. The UN has warned of an impending famine, with acutely malnourished children being treated at hospitals.—AFP

• Deal on the table proposes prisoner release in exchange for aid flowing into Gaza
• Israel okays construction of 3,500 settler homes in occupied West Bank

CAIRO: Talks on a ceasefire and prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas were at an impasse on Wednesday, as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza deepened and the Israelis pushed ahead with plans to build 3,500 settler homes in the occupied West Bank.

Negotiators from Hamas, Qatar and Egypt — but not Israel — are trying to secure a 40-day ceasefire in time for Ramazan, which begins next week.

Urging the Palestinians to accept the terms on the table, President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that Israel was cooperating and “a rational offer” had been made for a ceasefire in exchange for the release of Israeli prisoners.

Although Hamas is taking part, officials said a ceasefire must be in place before Israeli prisoners are freed, Israeli forces must leave Gaza and all Gazans must be able to return home they have fled.

A source had earlier said Israel was staying away from the Cairo talks because Hamas refused to provide a list of prisoners who are still alive.

Health officials in Gaza said the number of people confirmed killed in Israel’s offensive had now passed 30,700.

It reported 86 deaths in the past 24 hours and witnesses said the Israeli bombardments continued in parts of Khan Yunis, the southern city of Rafah and areas in central Gaza.

Gaza health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra said a girl, 15, had died in a Gaza City hospital from dehydration and malnutrition, describing her as the 18th such victim in just over a week.

Deal on the table

The deal presented to Hamas would see some prisoners freed in exchange for aid to Gaza being increased in a bid to avert famine, as hospitals treat acutely malnourished children.

The US on Tuesday also revised language in a draft UN Security Council resolution to back “an immediate ceasefire of roughly six weeks in Gaza together with the release of all [prisoners]”, according to a text seen by Reuters.

The new text reflected blunt remarks by Vice President Kamala Harris urging Israel to do more to ease the “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.

Britain’s foreign minister David Cameron echoed her comments by saying he would warn visiting Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz that London’s patience was running thin over the “dreadful suffering” in Gaza.

A deal is being sought before Ramazan because Palestinian-Israeli violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories often spikes during the fasting month, as does hostility towards Israel in the Arab and Muslim world, creating a strong incentive for leaders to clinch a deal before then.

Settler homes

Meanwhile on Wednesday, hardline Israeli minister Orit Struck has said that the government has pushed forward construction plans for 3,500 settler homes in the occupied West Bank.

The administrative step comes after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich last month vowed to expand settlements.

“Nearly 3,500 settlement units,” Struck, an ally of fellow extreme-right settler Smotrich, wrote on Wednesday on X, formerly Twitter.

“We promised — we are delivering… Together we will continue to advance the settlements,” he added.

Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said there were 3,426 homes advanced through a planning committee, across Maale Adumim and Kedar, east of Jerusalem, and Efrat, south of the city.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2024

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