Hamas: No breakthrough, Gaza ceasefire talks extended in Cairo for another day

CAIRO: Hamas negotiators will remain in Cairo for another day at the request of mediators, keeping ceasefire talks going after two days with no breakthrough, an official from the group said on Tuesday.

The Cairo talks have been billed as a final hurdle to reaching the first extended ceasefire in the conflict between Hamas and Israel – a 40-day truce during which Israeli hostages would be freed and aid sent to Gaza – ahead of Ramadan, which is due to begin at the start of next week.

“The delegation will remain in Cairo on Tuesday for more talks; they are expected to wrap up this round later today,” a Hamas official was quoted as saying by Reuters. Egypt’s Qahera television also reported the talks had been extended for a third day but said they were “facing difficulties.”

Earlier, senior Hamas official Bassem Naim said the group had presented its proposal for a ceasefire agreement to the mediators and was now waiting for a response from the Israelis, who have stayed away from this round.

“(Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu doesn’t want to reach an agreement, and the ball now is in the Americans’ court” to press him for a deal, Naim said.

A senior Israeli official, asked about Naim’s comments that Israel was holding up the deal, said: “The claim is incorrect. Israel is making every effort to reach an agreement. We are awaiting a response from Hamas.”

Israel has declined to comment publicly on the talks in Cairo.

Egyptian security sources said on Monday they were still in touch with the Israelis to allow the negotiations to continue without an Israeli delegation present.

Washington has said an Israeli-approved deal is already on the table, and it is up to Hamas to accept it. Hamas disputes this account as an attempt to deflect blame from Israel if the talks collapse with no deal.

The United States has also called on Israel to do more to alleviate the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, where more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s assault, launched after Hamas attacks that killed 1,200 people in October.

More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s assault, launched after Hamas launched a surprise attack on October 7, which led to the deaths of around 1,200 people.

People mourn as they receive the dead bodies of victims of an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza, March 3, 2024. /CFP

People mourn as they receive the dead bodies of victims of an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza, March 3, 2024. 

UN agency warns of threat to its presence in Gaza amid conflict

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, warned Monday against attempts to dismantle the agency.

Lazzarini expressed concerns at the UN General Assembly about “a deliberate and concerted campaign” aiming to cease the agency’s activities, amidst unsubstantiated claims by Israel that the agency harbors over 450 “military operatives” from Hamas and other groups.

“UNRWA is facing a deliberate and concerted campaign to undermine its operations and ultimately end them,” Lazzarini said.

UNRWA, critical for humanitarian aid in Gaza, is “functioning hand-to-mouth” after a significant funding halt, said the UNRWA head. This halt was triggered by Israel’s uncorroborated accusations against 12 UNRWA staff members of being involved in a Hamas attack.

Lazzarini warned the media the same day that the “worst is yet to come” for UNRWA and its beneficiaries.

“We are in a situation where there is a political decision to eliminate UNRWA,” he said, citing Netanyahu’s announcement that there is “no place” for UNRWA in Gaza as well as attempts to block and evict the UNRWA staff from its premises “with the aim to dismantle the agency.”

He confirmed that a yet-to-be published UNRWA report will document the experiences of those released from Israeli detention since October last year, including UNRWA staff members, who “have been traumatized” by their “ordeal.”

“It’s a very broad range of ill treatment, and we heard stories of people being systematically humiliated, obliged to be naked, subjected to verbal and psychological abuse,” he said, providing a snapshot of the report’s findings.

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