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Israeli delegation in Cairo for hostage talks

"Don't return until everyone is back—the living and dead. The eyes of 134 families are on you," group representing hostages tells Mossad head David Barnea.

Israelis call on the government to free the hostages in Gaza, outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Feb. 11, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Israelis call on the government to free the hostages in Gaza, outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Feb. 11, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

An Israeli delegation left for Cairo on Tuesday carrying a new draft of the terms of a hostage deal Jerusalem is willing to accept.

Led by David Barnea, head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, the Israelis will sit down with American, Egyptian and Qatari mediators in an attempt to secure the release of the 134 hostages remaining in the hands of Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

Israel crafted a new draft of its position on a potential agreement that would also see a pause in fighting. Sources told Kan in a report that aired on Monday evening that the new draft has “a certain flexibility” on Jerusalem’s part.

U.S. President Joe Biden said alongside Jordanian King Abdullah II at the White House on Monday that the deal under discussion would include six weeks of an “immediate and sustained period of calm” in Gaza, which could then lead to “something more enduring.”

A senior Egyptian official and a Western diplomat confirmed to the Associated Press on Tuesday that a six-week ceasefire is on the table, with the Egyptian official saying that the summit will focus on “crafting a final draft” of the proposal, with guarantees of further negotiations toward a permanent ceasefire.

The Western diplomat cautioned that more work is necessary to reach an agreement, saying that the Tuesday meeting was critical to bridging gaps between the sides, while the Egyptian official commented that “relatively significant” progress had already been made.

The high-ranking Israeli delegation, authorized by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also includes Israel Security Agency head Ronen Bar. It will meet with CIA Director Bill Burns, head of Egyptian intelligence Maj. Gen. Abbas Kamel and Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani.

Netanyahu last week rejected the “delusional demands” made by the terrorist group as part of its official response to a deal framework proposed by mediators, emphasizing that bowing to the terrorist organization’s demands would lead to another massacre and constitute a “major disaster” that no Israeli citizen will accept.

“We are on our way to total victory,” he declared. “Total victory over Hamas will not take years. It will take months. Victory is within reach,” said Netanyahu, adding, “The IDF is working miracles and working methodically to achieve all the goals that we set.”

The Hostage and Missing Families Forum, an organization representing the families of the hostages, applied pressure on the Israeli delegation to come back with results.

“Don’t come back until everyone is back—the living and the dead. The eyes of 134 families are on you. This is a once-in-a-lifetime mission,” the group said in comments directed at Barnea, according to Ynet.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry on Monday accused Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich of attempting to sabotage the talks after the head of the Religious Zionist Party earlier in the day urged Netanyahu not to send representatives to Cairo.

“It is unfortunate and disgraceful that the Israeli finance minister, Smotrich, continues to make irresponsible and inflammatory statements, only [revealing] a hunger for killing and destruction and sabotage [of] any attempt to contain the crisis in the Gaza Strip,” tweeted Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid.

Smotrich’s comments to his Knesset faction included remarks that Egypt “bore considerable responsibility for what happened on Oct. 7” due to not stopping the arms smuggling along the Gaza border.

“These statements are completely unacceptable, as Egypt fully controls its territory, and does not allow any party to involve Egypt’s name in any failed attempt to justify its shortcomings,” Abu Zeid wrote in response.

Smotrich also reportedly told his faction that he opposed any talks involving a hostage deal with Hamas, saying that instead the military should assassinate the terror group’s leaders.

Instead of sending Bar for talks “with the Nazi enemy, he should continue to be sent to Rafah together with his men and IDF soldiers to destroy, kill and [seize] the heads of the murderers and of all the Nazi Hamas terrorists,” Smotrich stressed.

At the Cairo talks, Israel’s pending Rafah military operation to demolish Hamas’s remaining battalions and destroy the terror group’s weapons-smuggling tunnels will also be discussed.

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