Egypt floats bid to end Israel Hamas war as Netanyahu vows to expand Gaza combat

26/12/2023

Egypt floats bid to end Israel-Hamas war as Netanyahu vows to expand Gaza combat

The proposal has so far been given cool public receptions by both sides

Israel and Hamas have given cool public receptions to an Egyptian proposal to end their bitter war.

But the longstanding enemies stopped short of rejecting the plan altogether, raising the possibility of a new round of diplomacy to halt a devastating Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The Egyptian plan calls for a phased hostage release and the formation of a Palestinian government of experts to administer the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank, according to a senior Egyptian official and a European diplomat familiar with the proposal.

The Egyptian official said the details were worked out with the Gulf nation of Qatar and presented to Israel, Hamas, the United States and European governments.

Egypt and Qatar both mediate between Israel and Hamas, while the US is Israel’s closest ally and a key power in the region.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not comment directly on the proposal.

But speaking to members of his Likud Party, he said he was determined to press ahead with Israel’s offensive, launched in response to an October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people and took 240 others hostage.

“We are expanding the fight in the coming days and this will be a long battle and it isn’t close to finished,” he said.

The Egyptian proposal falls short of Israel’s declared goal of crushing Hamas.

It also appears to be at odds with Israel’s insistence on maintaining military control over Gaza for an extended period after the war.

But Mr Netanyahu faces heavy domestic pressure to reach a deal to bring home the more than 100 Israeli hostages kidnapped on October 7 who remain in captivity in Gaza.

As he vowed to continue the war during a speech in parliament, relatives of the hostages interrupted him and called for their immediate return.

“Now! Now!” they shouted.

The rising death toll of Israeli soldiers from the ground operation also threatens to undermine what has been broad public support for the war.

The Israeli military announced the deaths of two more soldiers on Monday, bringing the total killed in the war to 156.

Mr Netanyahu’s War Cabinet was expected to meet late on Monday.

It was unclear if they would discuss the Egyptian proposal.

Hamas did not officially react to the proposal.

It remained unclear if Hamas would agree to relinquish power after controlling Gaza for the past 16 years.

Izzat Rishq, a senior Hamas official who is believed to be based in Qatar, issued a statement repeating the group’s position that it will not negotiate without a “complete end to the aggression”.

“Our people want to stop the aggression, and are not waiting for a temporary or partial truce for a short period of time that will be followed by more aggression and terrorism,” he said.

Word of the proposal came as Israeli air strikes heavily pounded central and southern Gaza.

In the Maghazi refugee camp on Monday, rescue workers were still pulling bodies from the wreckage of a strike the previous night.

Hospital records seen by The Associated Press showed at least 106 people killed, making it one of the deadliest strikes of Israel’s air campaign.

The United Nations’ World Health Organisation visited the hospital on Monday, director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“The hospital is taking in far more patients than its bed capacity and staff can handle. Many will not survive the wait,” he said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

The war has devastated large parts of Gaza, killed more than 20,600 Palestinians and displaced almost all of the territory’s 2.3 million people.

UN officials have warned that a quarter of the population is starving under Israel’s siege of the territory, which allows only a trickle of supplies in.

In the southern Gaza Strip, Hamas admitted to shooting dead a 13-year-old boy who was among a group of people who tried to seize aid from a truck.

The shooting prompted a violent protest and rare public criticism of Hamas, which has shown little tolerance for dissent during its reign.

The Egyptian proposal is an ambitious bid not only to end the war but also to lay out a plan for the day after.

It calls for an initial ceasefire of up to two weeks during which Palestinian militants would free 40 to 50 hostages, among them women, the sick and the elderly, in return for the release of 120-150 Palestinians from Israeli prisons, the Egyptian official said.

At the same time, negotiations would continue on extending the ceasefire and the release of more hostages and bodies held by Palestinian militants, he said.

Egypt and Qatar would also work with all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to agree on the establishment of a government of experts, he said.

The government would rule Gaza and the West Bank for a transitional period as Palestinian factions settle their disputes and agree on a road map to hold presidential and parliamentary elections, he added.

In the meantime, Israel and Hamas would negotiate a comprehensive “all-for-all” deal, he said.

This would include the release of all remaining hostages in return for all Palestinian prisoners in Israel, as well as the Israeli military’s withdrawal from Gaza and the Palestinian militants’ halting of rocket attacks into Israel.

More than 8,000 Palestinians are held by Israel on security-related charges or convictions, according to Palestinian figures.

Some have been convicted in deadly attacks on Israelis.

While their release would be controversial, Israel has a history of agreeing to lopsided releases, including a deal in 2011 that freed more than 1,000 prisoners for a single Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza.

Those prisoners included Yehya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip.

Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry spoke by phone on Monday with Iran’s chief diplomat, Hossein Amirabdollahian, on the war in Gaza, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said.

The statement said Mr Shoukry briefed Mr Amirabdollahian about efforts to achieve a comprehensive ceasefire.

It did not offer further details.

Iran is a major supporter of Hamas.

In Washington, the White House declined to comment about the Egyptian proposal.

US officials remain in close contact with Egypt and Qatar about getting more hostages released and several proposals have been floated, according to a person familiar with the talks.

While the Egyptian proposal is viewed as a positive sign, there is a large measure of scepticism that it will result in a breakthrough, the person said.

Late on Monday, the Israeli army said it had discovered the stolen car of the family of an Israeli hostage, Samer Al-Talalka, in a hospital compound in northern Gaza.

Al-Talalka was among three hostages mistakenly shot dead by Israeli soldiers in Gaza earlier this month.

The army said grenade fragments and bloodstains of another hostage were found in the vehicle.

“The finding of the vehicle directly links the hospital to the brutal events of October 7,” it said.

Published: by Radio NewsHub



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