Hamas delegates arrive in Cairo for Gaza ceasefire meet

Nidal al-Mughrabi |

The US has dropped humanitarian aid over Gaza as Hamas officials land in Cairo for ceasefire talks.
The US has dropped humanitarian aid over Gaza as Hamas officials land in Cairo for ceasefire talks.

A Hamas delegation has arrived in Cairo to hold talks about a ceasefire in Gaza, a senior official says.

The delegation is being led by Hamas’ deputy chief in Gaza, Khalil Al-Hayya, the official told Reuters on Sunday.

Asked if a deal was imminent, a Palestinian official familiar with the truce talks told Reuters they were not yet close to finalising an agreement.

An Israeli delegation is also expected to arrive in Cairo to take part in the talks but another source briefed on the meet said Israel would not send a delegation until it received a full list of the hostages still alive.

Mediators were reconvening in Cairo to search for a formula acceptable to Israel and Hamas for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza after foreign governments resorted to airdrops to aid desperate civilians in the Palestinian enclave.

Hopes for the first pause in fighting since November have risen after a previous round of talks mediated by Qatar and Egypt in Doha and indications from United States President Joe Biden that an agreement was close.

A senior US official on Saturday said the framework for a six-week pause in fighting was in place, with Israel’s agreement, and now depended on Hamas agreeing to release hostages it has held in Gaza since it attacked southern Israel on October 7.

“The path to a ceasefire right now literally at this hour is straightforward and there’s a deal on the table,” the official told reporters. 

“There’s a framework deal – the Israelis have more or less accepted it.

“The onus right now is on Hamas.”

Biden has said he hoped a ceasefire would be in place by the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which starts on March 10.

Biden and other world leaders are under growing pressure to ease the increasingly desperate plight of Palestinians after five months of war and an Israeli blockade of Gaza. 

Families of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza have attended a protest rally in Jerusalem. (EPA PHOTO)

The United Nations says a quarter of the population – 576,000 people – is one step from famine.

Gaza health authorities said Israeli forces killed 118 people trying to reach a relief convoy near Gaza City on Thursday, prompting global outrage over the humanitarian catastrophe. 

A day later, Biden announced plans for the US airdrop on Saturday, which also involved Jordanian forces.

Other countries including Jordan and France have already conducted airdrops of aid into Gaza.

The US has for months been calling for Israel to allow more aid into Gaza, something Israel has resisted. 

Some experts said being forced to resort to costly, inefficient airdrops demonstrated Washington’s limited influence over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Israel denies restricting humanitarian aid for Gaza civilians.

The US military aircraft released 38,000 meals over Gaza, falling far short of the assistance needed by the territory’s 2.2 million people. 

Much of the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave of Gaza has been destroyed by the Israeli offensive. (AP PHOTO)

US authorities said it was the first of what would be a sustained effort.

Israel disputes the health ministry’s death toll in the food convoy catastrophe and said most victims were trampled or run over.

Israel launched the offensive in response to the October 7 attack by Hamas, whose militants poured over the border from Gaza, killing 1200 people and abducting another 253, according to Israeli tallies.

The assault has devastated Gaza. 

Much of the Hamas-run enclave has been laid to waste and more than 30,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands more injured, according to Gaza health authorities.

Fighting raged in the early hours of Sunday, as residents reported the heavy shelling and tanks advancing around Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

Around Rafah, another southern city where more than a million Palestinians have been seeking refuge on the border with Egypt, authorities said 25 people were killed on Saturday and into Sunday.

Hamas has not backed away from its position that a temporary truce must be the start of a process towards ending the war altogether, the Egyptian sources and a Hamas official said.

However, the Egyptian sources said assurances had been offered to Hamas that the terms of a permanent ceasefire would be worked out in the second and third phases of the deal. 

with agencies