No truce talks breakthrough yet

Children hold bowls and containers as they wait to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen amid shortages of food supplies in the Gaza strip. Picture: Reuters.

Children hold bowls and containers as they wait to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen amid shortages of food supplies in the Gaza strip. Picture: Reuters.

Published Mar 6, 2024


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 militant group said on Tuesday.

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

“The delegation will remain in Cairo for more talks, they are expected to wrap up this round later today (Tuesday),” a Hamas official said.

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 militant group had presented its proposal for a ceasefire agreement to the mediators, and was now awaiting a response from the Israelis, who have stayed away from this round. “(Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu doesn’t want to reach an agreement. The ball is now 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.

A source said earlier that Israel was staying away because Hamas had rejected its demand to furnish a list of all hostages who are still alive.

Naim said this was impossible without a ceasefire first as hostages were scattered across the war zone and held by separate groups.

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

Washington – Israel’s closest ally and a sponsor of the ceasefire talks –has said an Israeli-approved deal is already on the table; 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 US 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 1200 people in October.

Famine is now gripping the besieged Gaza Strip as aid supplies, already sharply curtailed since the start of the war, have dwindled to barely a trickle over the past month. Whole swathes of the territory are completely cut off from food. Gaza’s few functioning hospitals, already overwhelmed by the wounded, are now filling with children starving to death.

Ahmed Cannan, a toddler with sunken eyes and an emaciated face, lay on a bed at Al-Awda clinic in Rafah. He had lost half his weight since the start of the war and now weighs just 6kg.

“His situation worsens each day. God protect us from what is coming,” his aunt, Israa Kalakh, said.

Nurse Diaa Al-Shaer said such emaciated children were now pouring into the clinic in unprecedented numbers: “We will face a large number of patients who suffer from malnutrition,” she said.

The situation is worst in the north of Gaza, beyond the reach of aid agencies or news cameras. Gaza health authorities say 15 children have died of malnutrition or dehydration at one hospital. Israel says it is willing to allow in more aid to Gaza through the two checkpoints on the southern edge of the territory it has permitted to open, and blames UN and other aid agencies for failing to distribute it more widely.

The aid agencies say this has become impossible with a breakdown of law and order, and it is up to Israel, whose troops have stormed Gaza’s towns and patrol them, to provide access and security for food distribution.

“The sense of helplessness and despair among parents and doctors in realising that lifesaving aid, just a few kilometres away, is being kept out of reach, must be unbearable,” said Adele Khodr, Unicef regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

The US and Jordan carried out a new air drop of humanitarian aid to Gaza on Tuesday, delivering more than 36 800 meals to Palestinians, the US military said.

Meanwhile, an estimated 8000 patients need evacuating out of the Gaza Strip, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday, voicing frustration that few have so far been transferred outside the besieged territory.

The WHO said moving such patients out of Gaza would relieve some of the strain on the medics and hospitals that are struggling to keep functioning in a war zone.