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Peace and Conflict

Hamas leaders head to Cairo for talks on hostage deal | 31st January 2024

Hamas leaders head to Cairo for talks on hostage deal via BICom

Hostage deal: A Hamas delegation is set to meet with Egyptian intelligence head Abbas Kamel in Cairo today, to discuss the contours of a potential hostage deal.

  • The delegation is set to include Hamas’s overseas leader Ismail Haniyeh, with talks likely to feature Hamas’s response to the deal contours reach by Israeli, American, Qatari and Egyptian officials in Paris this week, which would see all remaining hostages released in a three-stage process, in exchange for a truce and the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to speculation over talks yesterday by saying: “I’ve heard statements about all kinds of deals. So I wish to clarify: we will not end this war with anything less than the achievement of all its objectives… We will not withdraw the IDF from the Gaza Strip and we won’t release thousands of terrorists. None of that is going to happen. What is going to happen? Total victory.”
  • Gaza: The IDF has announced that three Israeli soldiers were killed in action in the Gaza Strip yesterday. 30-year-old Netzer Simhi was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade in the northern Strip, and 28-year-old Capt. (res.) Gavriel Shani and 43-year-old Warrant Officer (res.) Yuval Nir in exchanges of fire with terrorists in the southern Strip.
  • Three other soldiers sustained serious injuries in fighting in central and northern Gaza.
  • Israel has also announced that First Sgt. Ran Gvili, a 24-year-old who served with the Israel Police, was killed in action in the battle for Alumim on October 7 and that his body is being held by Hamas in Gaza.
  • The IDF has also confirmed weeks-long speculation that it is engaged in flooding parts of Gaza’s vast network of tunnels.
  • Heavy fighting continued yesterday in both the north and south of the Strip. A large number of terrorists were killed or captured, and the IDF announced that the rocket launchers in Khan Yunis  from which 11 rockets were fired at the greater Tel Aviv area the day before yesterday were destroyed.
  • Amid fallout from last week’s revelations that UNWRA staff members participated in October 7th, an Israeli official has suggested that Israel does not support the immediate suspension of UNWRA activity in the Gaza Strip.
  • “If UNRWA ceases operating on the ground, this could cause a humanitarian catastrophe that would force Israel to halt its fighting against Hamas,” a senior Israeli told The Times of Israel. “This would not be in Israel’s interest and it would not be in the interest of Israel’s allies either.”

The West Bank: Israeli forces conducted a raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin yesterday morning, killing three suspected members of a Hamas cell in the city’s hospital.

  • Commandos went in undercover in disguise, with the IDF, Shin Bet, and Police saying in a joint statement that the cell headed by Muhammad Jalamneh, 27, had been plotting “a raid attack inspired by the events of October 7.”
  • Jalamneh was killed along with two other cell members, brothers Muhammad and Basel Ghazawi.
  • IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said, “we do not want to turn hospitals into combat zones, but we are even more determined not to allow hospitals in Gaza, Judea and Samaria, Lebanon, above ground and in shafts leading to tunnels below ground, to become a place that is a haven for terrorists.”

The north: Three rockets were fired out of Syrian territory last night into the southern Golan Heights. The IDF retaliated with artillery fire, reported by Syrian opposition sources as being aimed at the Daraa area, near the Jordanian border.

  • Two anti-tank missiles were also fired at Metulla from Lebanon last night, while earlier yesterday, a rocket landed in an open field near Arab al-Aramsha in the western Galilee. No injuries or damage were reported in either incident.
  • A rocket fired from Lebanon at the Yiftah area in the Upper Galilee was also reported this morning, with no injuries or damage reported. The IDF responded with artillery fire.

UK hints at recognition of Palestinian state: UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has said that recognition is a possible step London might take in a bid to make the process towards statehood “irreversible”.

  • Speaking to the Conservative Middle East Council, Cameron echoed the US position in noting that a reformed Palestinian Authority was required to give the Palestinian people "technocratic and good leaders" able to govern Gaza.
  • "Together with that, almost most important of all,” he said, “is to give the Palestinian people a political horizon so that they can see that there is going to be irreversible progress to a two-state solution and crucially the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
  • "We have a responsibility there because we should be starting to set out what a Palestinian state would look like, what it would comprise, how it would work and crucially, looking at the issue, that as that happens, we with allies will look at the issue of recognising a Palestinian state, including at the United Nations. That could be one of the things that helps to make this process irreversible."

Context: Haniyeh has not visited Egypt in over a month, with his presence interpreted as a signal of the seriousness of the negotiations.

  • Yesterday, he announced that Hamas was not rejecting the Paris proposals outright. The Washington Post has reported that the deal to be discussed would see three Palestinian prisoners, some in jail for violent attacks, released for each hostage.
  • Far-right elements within the Israeli coalition continue to oppose a hostage deal, especially Finance Minister Smotrich and National Security Minister Ben Gvir. Ben Gvir has made public threats to bring down the government rather than allow a deal.
  • Opposing this position are War Cabinet members Gantz and Eisenkot, who joined the government in the wake of October 7th. Opposition head Lapid pledged yesterday to provide Netanyahu with a "safety net for any deal that returns the hostages to their homes."
  • In confirming the use of tunnel-flooding, the IDF clarified that the tactic was not suitable for all tunnel sections, and that it conducted “professional and comprehensive” assessments in advance, to ensure that groundwater is not contaminated.
  • The US and over a dozen other countries, including the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Australia, Japan, and Canada announced suspension of funding for UNWRA in light of the revelations supplied by Israel over its staffers’ involvement in October 7th.
  • Israel has further claimed that 10 percent of UNWRA’s 12,000-strong Gazan staff have ties to either Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
  • A delegation headed by Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj. Gen. Ghassan Aliyan is in Washington for talks with US officials, with UNWRA featuring heavily. COGAT officials are thought to have told their hosts that alternative organisations needed to be found to act in the Strip instead of UNRWA.
  • Jalamana was seriously wounded a few months ago when a car bomb he was assembling exploded, prompting the Shin Bet to launch a manhunt for him. While injured, he was taken to a safe house, where he began to convalesce. Jalamana and his partners exploited the Israeli security forces’ sensitivity when dealing with humanitarian issues, and used ambulances to shuttle across the West Bank.
  • The UK has traditionally avoided pre-emptive recognition of Palestinian statehood, recognising that such a move surrenders valuable political capital required in encouraging Palestinians to end their intransigence in future negotiations.
  • Statehood has traditionally been understood as the end result of a negotiated agreement, not as a step towards one. Further, there have been fears that such moves risk provoking dangerous and potentially violent disappointment when they fail to shift on-the-ground realities.

Looking ahead: Further speculation is rife in Israel of a purported “secret” plan for a post-Hamas Gaza, involving a demilitarised Palestinian state and Israeli normalisation with Saudi Arabia. (For more details, see Israeli Media Summary below.)

  • In a bid to prevent Hamas from seizing aid intended for the Gazan people, the IDF is considering a plan which would see it, along with international aid organisations, distribute aid directly.

via BICom