Hamas Leader Visits Cairo, A Sign Talks On Another Gaza Truce And Hostage Swap Are Gathering Pace

(AP) — Hamas’ top leader travelled to Cairo on Wednesday for talks on the war in Gaza, part of a flurry of diplomacy aimed at securing another cease-fire and hostage swap at a moment when the militant group is putting up stiff resistance to Israel’s offensive.

Ismail Haniyeh’s visit came a day after Hamas fired rockets that set off air raid sirens in central Israel, a show of strength during a 10-week war that has devastated much of northern Gaza, killed nearly 20,000 Palestinians, and driven some 1.9 million — nearly 85 per cent of the population — from their homes.

Israel has called on the rest of the world to blacklist Hamas as a terrorist organisation, saying it must be eradicated in the wake of its October 7 rampage across southern Israel that triggered the war.

But the sides have recently relaunched indirect talks, mediated by Egypt and Qatar, aimed at instituting another cease-fire and freeing more hostages captured in that attack in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Mobile phone and Internet service was down across Gaza again on Wednesday, an outage that could complicate efforts to communicate with Hamas’ leaders inside the territory who went into hiding after October 7.

Despite a burst of activity by high-level officials in recent days, the two sides appeared to be far from an agreement.

Hamas has said no more hostages will be released until the war ends, and is expected to insist on the release of large numbers of Palestinian prisoners, including high-level militants, for the captives that remain — demands Israel has thus far rejected.

Egypt, along with Qatar, helped mediate a weeklong cease-fire in November in which Hamas freed over 100 hostages in exchange for Israel’s release of 240 Palestinian prisoners. Hamas and other militants are still holding an estimated 129 captives.

Hamas said that Haniyeh — who is believed to be based in Qatar but whose movements are rarely publicised — would discuss the war with Egyptian officials, without providing more details.

Ziad Nakhaleh, the leader of the smaller Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, which took part in the October 7 attack and is also holding hostages, said he had also been invited to Egypt for talks and would travel there in the coming days.

Egypt, which borders Gaza, is deeply concerned about a potential influx of Palestinian refugees, fearing Israel will not allow them to return.

At least 46 people were killed and more than 100 wounded early Wednesday as Israel continued to bombard the urban Jabaliya refugee camp near Gaza City, according to Munir al-Bursh, a senior Health Ministry official.

The Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Tuesday the death toll since the start of the war had risen to more than 19,600. It does not distinguish between civilian and combatant deaths.

Hamas and other militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in the October 7 attack.

Israel’s military says 134 of its soldiers have been killed in the Gaza ground offensive. Israel says it has killed some 7,000 militants, without providing evidence, and blames civilian deaths on Hamas, saying it uses them as human shields when it fights in residential areas.