The leader of Hamas travelled to Egypt on Wednesday as hopes grew that Israel and the Palestinian militant group may be inching toward another truce and hostage release deal in the Gaza war.
The Qatar-based Hamas chief, Ismail Haniyeh, arrived in Cairo for discussions on the “aggression in the Gaza Strip and other matters”, the group said in a statement.
He was due to meet Egypt’s spy chief for talks on “stopping the aggression and the war to prepare an agreement for the release of prisoners”, a source close to the group told AFP.
Haniyeh – who earlier met Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Qatar – was heading a “high-level delegation” to Egypt, a frequent mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, the source said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told hostage families late on Tuesday that he had twice sent his spy chief to Europe in efforts intended to “free our hostages”.
“It’s our duty, I’m responsible for the release of all the hostages,” the premier told the relatives of some of the 129 captives still believed to be held in Gaza.
“Saving them is a supreme task.
“I have just sent the head of Mossad to Europe twice to promote a process to free our hostages. I will spare no effort on the subject, and our duty is to bring them all back.”
US news site Axios reported on Monday that Mossad chief David Barnea had met CIA director Bill Burns and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani in Europe.
Qatar, backed by Egypt and the US, helped broker a week-long truce in November in which 80 Israeli hostages were freed in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.
A source close to Hamas told AFP the Egypt talks would focus on proposals including a week-long truce that would see the release of 40 Israeli hostages, including women, children and male non-combatants.
The truce would be open to extension if there is agreement on new conditions for further releases, the source said, adding that the proposals had been discussed between Qatar and Israel with the knowledge of the US administration.
The war began when Hamas militants burst out of Gaza on October 7, killing around 1 140 people in Israel, mostly civilians, and abducting about 250, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel began a campaign of bombardment, and then a ground invasion, that Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says have killed 19 667 people, mostly women and children.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog also said on Tuesday his country was “ready for another humanitarian pause and additional humanitarian aid in order to enable the release of hostages”.
Another Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad, meanwhile, released video footage it claimed showed two hostages in its custody in Gaza, ramping up pressure on Israel.
The UN Security Council was set to vote on Wednesday, on a resolution calling for a pause in the conflict, three diplomatic sources told AFP, after two previous votes were delayed as members wrangled over wording.
The latest version of the text calls for the “suspension” of hostilities, the sources said.
The US vetoed a previous ceasefire resolution, sparking condemnation by humanitarian groups, which urged more action to help civilians caught in the conflict. For now, fighting was raging unabated after Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said on Tuesday that troops were expanding operations in southern Gaza’s Khan Yunis area.
“We must dismantle Hamas, and it will take as long as needed,” he said, as the army reported 133 soldiers had been killed since ground operations began in late October.
Hamas sources said that on Wedndesday at least 11 people were killed overnight in Israeli strikes across the Gaza Strip.
In Khan Yunis, residents searched by hand through the rubble of a building completely flattened by a strike.
The UN estimates 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million residents have been displaced and concerns are growing about the limited ability of aid groups to help.
“Amid displacement at an unimaginable scale and active hostilities, the humanitarian response system is on the brink,” said Tor Wennesland, the UN’s special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process.
Gazans are facing a perilous winter, and the UN children’s agency warned that “child deaths due to disease could surpass those killed in bombardments”.
The US, while strongly backing Israel, has also urged it to protect civilians in Gaza. The British Foreign Secretary called on Israel to take a “much more surgical, clinical and targeted approach” in fighting Hamas.