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Israel said to boycott Cairo ceasefire talks over hostage list

4 min

Israel boycotted Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo on Sunday after Hamas rejected its demand for a complete list naming hostages that are still alive, an Israeli newspaper reported.

An Israeli armoured personnel carrier maneuvers along the Israel-Gaza border fence.,March 3, 2024. Reuters/Amir Cohen

Israel boycotted Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo on Sunday after Hamas rejected its demand for a complete list naming hostages that are still alive, an Israeli newspaper reported.

A Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo for the talks, billed as a possible final hurdle before an agreement that would halt the fighting for six weeks. But by the evening there was no sign of the Israelis.

"There is no Israeli delegation in Cairo," Ynet, the online version of Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, quoted unidentified Israeli officials as saying. "Hamas refuses to provide clear answers and therefore there is no reason to dispatch the Israeli delegation."

Washington has insisted the ceasefire deal is close and should be in place in time to halt fighting by the start of Ramadan, a week away. But the warring sides have given little sign in public of backing away from previous demands.

After the Hamas delegation arrived, a Palestinian official told Reuters the deal was "not yet there". There was no official comment from Israel.

One source briefed on the talks had said on Saturday that Israel could stay away from Cairo unless Hamas first presented its full list of hostages who are still alive. A Palestinian source told Reuters that Hamas had so far rejected that demand.

In past negotiations Hamas has sought to avoid discussing the wellbeing of individual hostages until after terms for their release are set.

A U.S. official told reporters on Saturday: "The path to a ceasefire right now literally at this hour is straightforward. And there's a deal on the table. There's a framework deal."

Israel had agreed to the framework and it was now up to Hamas to respond, the U.S. official said.

An agreement would bring the first extended truce of the war, which has raged for five months so far with just a week-long pause in November. Dozens of hostages held by the militants would be freed in return for hundreds of Palestinian detainees.

Aid would be ramped up for Gazans pushed to the verge of famine. Fighting would cease in time to head off a massive planned Israeli assault on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million people are penned in against the enclave's southern border fence abutting Egypt. Israeli forces would pull back from some areas and let Gazans return to abandoned homes.

But the proposal appears to stop short of fulfilling the main Hamas demand for a permanent end to the war, while also leaving unresolved the fate of more than half of the more than 100 remaining hostages - including Israeli men not covered by terms to free women, children, the elderly and wounded.

Egyptian mediators have suggested those issues could be set aside for now, with assurances to resolve them in later stages. A Hamas source told Reuters the militants were still holding out for a "package deal".

In other diplomatic moves, Israeli war cabinet member Benny Ganz will meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on Tuesday, while U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein visits Beirut on Monday to pursue efforts to de-escalate the conflict across the Lebanese-Israeli border.

OVERNIGHT AIRSTRIKE

At a morgue outside a Rafah hospital on Sunday morning, women wept and wailed beside rows of bodies of the Abu Anza family, 14 of whom were killed in their home in an airstrike overnight. Relatives opened a black plastic body bag to kiss the face of a dead schoolgirl in a torn sweatshirt and pink unicorn pyjamas.

Later, the bodies were brought to a graveyard and buried, including two infant twins, a boy and a girl, passed down in white bundles and placed in the ground.

"My heart is gone," wailed their mother, Rania Abu Anza, who also lost her husband in the attack. "I haven't had enough time with them."

Gaza authorities said at least eight people were killed on Sunday when a truck carrying food aid from a Kuwaiti charity was hit by an airstrike. There was no immediate Israeli comment.

The war was unleashed in October after Hamas fighters stormed through Israeli towns killing 1,200 people and capturing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Since then, Israeli forces have killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.

Swathes of the Gaza Strip have been laid to waste, nearly the entire population has been made homeless, and the United Nations estimates a quarter of Gazans are on the verge of famine.

Residents described heavy bombardment overnight of Khan Younis, the main southern Gaza city, just to the north of Rafah.

Further north, where aid no longer reaches, Gaza health authorities said 15 children had now died of malnutrition or dehydration inside the Kamal Adwan hospital where there was no power for the intensive care unit. Staff fear for the lives of six more children there.

Washington dropped 38,000 meals from military aircraft into Gaza on Saturday, though aid agencies say this was only enough to have a marginal impact given the scale of the need.

The final days leading up to the possible truce have been exceptionally bloody, with talks overshadowed last week by the deaths of 118 people and wounding of hundreds more near a food convoy.

Israel said on Sunday its initial review of the incident had found that most of those killed or wounded had died in a stampede. Military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israeli troops at the scene initially fired only warning shots, though they later shot at some "looters" who "approached our forces and posed an immediate threat".

Muatasem Salah, a member of the Emergency Committee at the Ministry of Health in Gaza, told Reuters the Israeli account was contradicted by machine gun wounds.

"The wounded and martyrs are the result of being shot with heavy-calibre bullets," he said. "Any attempt to claim that people were martyred due to overcrowding or being run over is incorrect."

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo, Bassam Masoud in Rafah, Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem

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