Middle EastPeaceWar

Gaza Truce Talks Enter Fourth Day After US Urges Speedy Deal

International mediators were set for a fourth day of talks with Hamas in Cairo on Wednesday after US President Joe Biden called on the militant group to agree to a truce deal with Israel by the start of Ramadan.

Envoys have discussed plans to halt the fighting that has raged since Hamas’ October 7 attack before the Muslim fasting month starts on Sunday or Monday, depending on the sighting of the full moon.

As famine threatens the besieged Gaza Strip, US and Jordanian planes again airdropped food aid into the territory of 2.4 million people in a joint operation with Egypt and France on Tuesday.

The World Health Organization has reported children dying of starvation in two northern Gaza hospitals, and US Vice President Kamala Harris has expressed “deep concern about the humanitarian conditions in Gaza.”

Envoys from Hamas and the United States have been meeting Qatari and Egyptian mediators in Cairo to discuss a plan for a six-week truce, the exchange of dozens of remaining hostages for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, and a greater flow of aid to Gaza.

Egypt’s Al-Qahera News, which is close to the country’s intelligence services, said the talks would continue Wednesday.

Biden warned Hamas to quickly agree to a truce and hostage release deal after his top diplomat Antony Blinken urged the group to accept an “immediate ceasefire.”

“It’s in the hands of Hamas right now,” the US president told reporters from Maryland.

“There’s got to be a ceasefire because Ramadan — if we get into circumstances where this continues to Ramadan, Israel and Jerusalem could be very, very dangerous.”

He did not elaborate but the United States urged Israel last week to allow Muslims to pray at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a frequent flashpoint during Ramadan.

The Israeli government said Tuesday it would allow Muslim worshippers access to the mosque compound in annexed east Jerusalem “in similar numbers to those in previous years.”

Hostage List

Israeli negotiators have so far stayed away from the Cairo talks, with Israeli media reporting that they boycotted them after Hamas failed to provide a list of living hostages.

Senior Hamas leader Bassem Naim said details on the captives had not been “mentioned in any documents or proposals circulated during the negotiation process.”

“The Hamas movement has shown the required flexibility with the aim of reaching an agreement requiring a comprehensive cessation of aggression against our people,” the Islamist group said in a statement.

“The movement will continue to negotiate through mediator brothers to reach an agreement that fulfils the demands and interests of our people.”

However, Osama Hamdan, a Hamas official in Beirut, warned the group would “not allow the path of negotiations to be open indefinitely.”

Israel has said it believes 130 of the 250 captives taken by Hamas fighters in their unprecedented October 7 attack remain in Gaza but that 31 are presumed dead.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani met and agreed that “the release of sick, wounded, elderly and women hostages would result in an immediate ceasefire in Gaza over a period of at least six weeks.”

The first phase of a ceasefire would enable “a surge of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, and provide time and space to secure more enduring arrangements and sustained calm,” a White House readout of the meeting said.

Famine Looms

Israel is facing increasing criticism from its top ally the United States as conditions in Gaza deteriorate.

Harris met Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz in Washington on Monday, the same day the WHO said an aid mission at the weekend found that 10 children had died of starvation at the Al-Awda and Kamal Adwan hospitals.

In Khan Yunis, the main city in Gaza’s south, residents described finding decomposing bodies lying in streets, which are lined with destroyed buildings.

“We want to eat and live. Take a look at our homes. How am I to blame, a single, unarmed person without any income in this impoverished country?” asked Nader Abu Shanab, pointing to the rubble with blackened hands.

American cargo planes airdropped more than 36,000 meals into Gaza Tuesday in a joint operation with Jordan, which said French and Egyptian planes also took part.

The UN’s World Food Programme said Israeli troops turned away an aid convoy at a checkpoint inside Gaza and that it was later looted “by desperate people.”

The Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 resulted in about 1,160 deaths, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed more than 30,600 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

Gaza's Rafah
Smoke billows from Gaza’s Rafah border. Photo: Said Kahtib/AFP

Regional Fallout

The war has sparked violence across the region, including near-daily exchanges of fire between Israeli forces and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.

The US military said it shot down three drones and a missile fired toward one of its destroyers in the Red Sea by Houthi rebels in Yemen on Tuesday.

A statement by US Central Command said “one anti-ship ballistic missile and three one-way attack unmanned aerial systems” had been shot down.

The Iran-backed Houthis have been attacking shipping in the Red Sea for months, saying they were hitting Israel-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

Their campaign has caused major disruption on the key trade route, sharply hiking shipping costs.

Anger over Israel’s Gaza campaign has grown across the Middle East, stoking violence involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

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