Israeli Delegation Leaves Cairo Without Breakthrough in Hostage Talks


Talks involving the US, Egypt, Israel and Qatar on a hostage release deal ended without a breakthrough on Tuesday, as Israel faced mounting pressure to reach an agreement to halt the war in Gaza against Hamas.

The Israeli delegation was on its way back from Cairo, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office told The Times of Israel. They met with CIA director William Burns, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, and Egyptian officials for talks on a truce framework.

Another official said that the Israeli delegation, led by Mossad head David Barnea and Shin Bet director Ronen Bar, was “there to listen,” and that they did not put a new offer on the table.

Despite the Israeli delegation’s departure, the negotiations were “positive” and would continue for three more days, said Egypt’s Al-Qahera News, citing a senior Egyptian official.

Egypt’s state information service also said the meeting ended with “keenness to continue consultation and coordination” on the key issues. Though Barnea and Shin Bet director Ronen Bar attended the meeting, the Egyptian statement made no mention of Israel.

“The meeting witnessed a review of the developments of the current situation,” according to the announcement, and “confirmed the continued consultation and intensive coordination to achieve the goals of the ceasefire, the protection of civilians and [work toward a] two-state solution, in a manner that enhances efforts to establish security and stability in the region.”

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The information service said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi met with Burns and Al-Thani to discuss the potential truce, the release of the hostages and the delivery of more aid into the enclave, adding that that no breakthrough was made.

A Hamas official told AFP the terror group was waiting for the outcome of the Cairo meeting but was “open to discussing any initiative that achieves an end to aggression and war.”

The Kan public broadcaster reported that the Mossad, together with the Shin Bet and the Israel Defense Forces, put together a new framework for a truce deal to release the hostages that was dismissed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The details of the framework were not reported, but Kan said the proposal was put together by Barnea, Bar and Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, who is commanding intelligence efforts to find the abductees.

The proposal was discussed with Netanyahu a number of times, according to the report, and was most recently brought up during a preparatory meeting Monday for the Cairo talks.

Netanyahu rejected the new outline and instructed the trio to head to Cairo to “only listen” to the talks, without presenting new ideas or offering a formal answer to Hamas’s demands, which Netanyahu has termed “delusional.”

Following the conversation with Netanyahu, Alon decided not to attend the meeting in the Egyptian capital and sent his deputy instead.

Netanyahu also sent one of his political aides, Ophir Falk, to the meeting.

People walk next to pictures of civilians held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Jerusalem, February 12, 2024. Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Israel waffled on sending representatives to the Cairo talks this week, but came under US pressure to do so. Top US officials have said that regardless of some of the “nonstarters,” there is space to push for an agreement and that it was Washington’s intention to do so.

In a call on Sunday between US President Joe Biden and Netanyahu, Biden reportedly encouraged the Israeli premier to send a delegation to Cairo to join the talks.

Biden said Monday that the US was pushing for a six-week pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas as a stepping stone toward a longer ceasefire.

A political source told Kan that the problem was and remains “the unreasonable demands of Hamas to stop the war.”

The Palestinian terror group’s demands include a permanent ceasefire, a withdrawal of troops from Gaza, reconstruction of the enclave and some 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, among them terror masterminds, in exchange for the remaining hostages taken on October 7.

Israel has been willing to accept talks based on the original Paris framework from two weeks ago, which reportedly envisions a three-phase humanitarian pause, with 35 to 40 Israeli hostages — women, men older than 60 and those with serious medical conditions — released during the first six-week phase. Israeli soldiers and the bodies of killed hostages would be released in the second and third phases.

Details regarding the latter phases, as well as the number and identities of Palestinian security prisoners who would be released by Israel, were to be discussed in subsequent negotiations if the sides both agreed to the Paris proposal. Other reports presented different versions of the framework, which has not been officially published.

Illustrative: Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists stand guard as a Red Cross vehicle transports newly released hostages in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on November 28, 2023. (Flash90)

Quoting US and Israeli officials, the Axios news site reported that the key sticking point in the negotiations is the release of security prisoners, with Biden telling Netanyahu on Sunday that while Hamas’s demands went too far, Israel could demonstrate more flexibility and will likely have to free more Palestinians per hostage than a previous deal in November which saw 105 civilians released by the terror group.

“[The] ratio remains an outstanding issue,” a US official said.

The report also said Netanyahu told Biden that he wants a hostage deal but it must be backed by the cabinet, an apparent reference to the key decision-making security cabinet that includes far-right allies of the premier who have called for rejecting what they see as an “irresponsible deal” to halt the IDF’s ongoing offensive.

Tuesday’s talks in Cairo were held as Israel intensified its offensive in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, where 1.4 million displaced Palestinians have fled to seek shelter from fighting elsewhere. An Israeli hostage rescue mission freed two captives held in the town along the Egyptian border, a raid that killed at least 74 Palestinians according to Hamas health officials, whose figures don’t distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Israel has made destroying Hamas’s governing and military capabilities and freeing the hostages the main goals of the war, which began when thousands of Hamas terrorists rampaged through southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 253 others captive, including women and children. Tens of thousands of Israelis were displaced from destroyed communities.

The war has wrought massive destruction in the Gaza Strip, with more than 28,000 people killed, according to Gaza-based Hamas health officials. That figure cannot be independently verified and includes some 10,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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