How serious an impact will reduced rice supplies have on the Arab world following India’s export ban?

Special How serious an impact will reduced rice supplies have on the Arab world following India’s export ban?
Rice is a food staple in the Gulf but India’s ban on the export of non-basmati varieties owing to delayed sowing could lead to price hikes. (AFP)
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Updated 02 August 2023
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How serious an impact will reduced rice supplies have on the Arab world following India’s export ban?

How serious an impact will reduced rice supplies have on the Arab world following India’s export ban?
  • Indian decision to prioritize the domestic market follows delayed monsoon rains and price rises
  • Effect of reduced supplies and higher prices to vary from country to country in the Middle East and North Africa

DUBAI/NEW DELHI: India’s decision to ban the export of several varieties of rice in order to ensure sufficient supplies at home is pushing up prices on the global market, a development whose impact on food-insecure countries is being viewed with concern by experts.

Although the ban does not include the popular basmati variety, which is a staple at Gulf dinner tables, it is triggering an increase in the prices of all rice varieties, adding to the vulnerabilities of import-reliant economies of the Middle East and Africa.

While the Indian restrictions might contribute to food price inflation in the Arab region, economists who specialize in the field of agriculture do not anticipate a rice shortage.

“The impact is not going to be restricted to exporters to the Arab countries, nor rice production levels in the Arab region,” Fadel El-Zubi, lead consultant for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Jordan and the agency’s former chief in Iraq, told Arab News.




Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, said last week that the move would increase price volatility and should be reconsidered. (AFP)

“The impact will be seen on global prices in stock exchange markets.”

He said the price increases would not be limited to the cereal coming out of India but would apply to rice produced in other markets too, from the US to Australia.

“This is going to be the main impact. Yet, the increase in prices won’t be similar to the increase in wheat prices. (Also) the increase in rice prices will be for a short term. This is my expectation.”

El-Zubi was referring to the soaring price of wheat on the world market as a result of the war between Russia and Ukraine, which before February 2022 were jointly responsible for almost a third of the world’s wheat and barley production.

Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports following its invasion led to fears of grain shortages and spiraling food prices, whose impact would have been felt most by the world’s most food-insecure nations, particularly in Africa.

Last summer, a UN- and Turkiye-brokered deal between Russia and Ukraine allowed both nations to continue exporting grain. But earlier this month, Moscow withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, renewing fears of food-price inflation.

The ban on exports of non-basmati white rice imposed on July 20 by India — the world’s largest supplier of rice, accounting for almost 40 percent of global trade — has added to those fears.

Responding to the Indian decision, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, said last week that the move would increase price volatility and should be reconsidered.

“In the current environment, these types of restrictions are likely to exacerbate volatility in food prices in the rest of the world and they can also lead to retaliatory measures,” he said.

“We would encourage the removal of these type of export restrictions because they can be harmful globally.”

But Indian food policy analyst Devinder Sharma believes the ban was the correct response to guarantee India’s own food security. He said the IMF was not justified in criticizing India’s market controls when Western nations continued to use vast quantities of grain for making biofuels.

“Despite the threat from the IMF, I think the Indian government has taken the right decision. India’s own domestic food security is of paramount importance,” Sharma told Arab News.

“Regarding the shortfall in the global supply, why don’t you ask America and Europe to cut down on ethanol production? The former consumes 90 million tons of food grain for its ethanol production, while the EU uses 12 million tons. They should stop it.

“India has to take care of its own food security. Imagine, 3 million people died in the 1943 Bengal famine because food was diverted. I think India has taken the right decision.”

For now, anecdotal evidence suggests few consumers in Arab countries are concerned about the impact of India’s export ban.

“We in Jordan consume basmati rice and not the white non-basmati rice that was included in the ban,” Jamal Amr, foodstuff representative at Jordan’s Chamber of Commerce, told Arab News.

He said Jordan bought most of its rice from the US, the EU, East Asian countries, Uruguay and Argentina.

“I am not stockpiling rice and I am not planning to. Things look normal to me,” Emirati housewife Umm Mohamed, a resident of Dubai, told Arab News. “My family and the domestic helpers all eat rice as a main staple.”




A farmer harvests at a rice paddy on the outskirts of Srinagar, India. (AFP)

The picture is the same in Saudi Arabia. “Rice is the main source of food in Saudi Arabia,” retired engineer Abu Akram said.

“In every main meal, we have to put basmati rice on the table. Saudi families usually store rice in quantities that can last for a month or two.”

He said he was not concerned about a possible price rise, but was thinking of asking his sons to buy extra rice, “just in case.”

In the era of globalization, involving free movement of goods, people and capital, the shopping habits of rice eaters in the Arab world are not immune to fluctuations in the fortunes of Indian agriculture.

India’s farmers typically start planting rice and other water-intensive crops from June 1 to coincide with the annual monsoon season. However, the country received 10 percent less rain than the average for June, with that figure rising to 60 percent in some states.

Although the monsoon rains have now arrived, the delay held up the planting of summer crops, a setback that experts believe prompted the Indian government to curb exports of rice.

Just a few days after the restriction was imposed, the UAE announced its own four-month ban on the export and re-import of all rice varieties, starting from July 28.

The UAE imports almost 90 percent of its food, making it especially vulnerable to fluctuations in global prices. According to Reuters data, the UAE was among the top 10 importers of non-basmati rice from India in 2020, buying almost 346,000 tons.

Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the UK and the US also feature among the top 10 importers.




A farmer spreads unpolished rice to dry along a highway in Toopran Mandal in the Medak district, some 55 km from Hyderabad on November 11, 2021. (AFP)

Large quantities of rice imported by the UAE are later exported after packaging in the free zones. The ban on re-importing will therefore affect countries that buy packaged rice from the UAE.

Other countries that are likely to feel the squeeze of India’s export ban are African importers such as Benin. But even big economies like China will be affected, despite it being a major rice producer in its own right.

Arab countries that are likely to suffer the most from India’s export ban are Egypt, Algeria and Sudan, all of which already face economic turbulence and the effects of rising wheat prices. In Sudan’s case, a deadly feud between two generals since April 15 has compounded the woes of a population ravaged by hunger and malnutrition.

Unsurprisingly, some observers believe India made the wrong call, undermining its carefully cultivated image as a reliable trade partner and aspiring leader of the Global South.

“I feel the ban on the export of rice is a knee-jerk reaction to control prices in the domestic market with elections in view,” said Gokul Patnaik, former chairman of India’s government-affiliated Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority.

“But it gives a very bad name to India which is emerging as an agri-exporter. Earlier, India was a net importer and of late it had earned a good reputation as an exporter. Countries which are buying from India will definitely feel this kind of reaction. To switch on and off is not good if one is to be a consistent exporter.”

He added: “What the government could have done was to control the taxes. It could have increased export tax. If you are going to be in international trade, you should always be open to import and export. You should not ban.

“Importing countries expect you to be consistent and you should not only be a fair-weather friend. Export-import is a question of trust. If you lose trust, people don’t want to continue.”




The ban on exports of non-basmati white rice imposed on July 20 by India. (AFP)

It is not just rice that has become costlier in India in recent weeks. The prices of tomatoes and other staples have also risen following the late arrival of the monsoon rains in some parts of the country and unexpectedly heavy downpours in others.

With heavy rains damaging standing crops in some regions, predictions now are of poor harvests and even higher prices of farm produce. Public anger over food inflation could become a clear disadvantage for the government, which faces several regional elections this year in the run-up to the national vote.

Brajesh Jha, a professor at the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi, takes the view that India is ill equipped to be a major exporter, but believes the ban is largely tied to the general election next year, which takes primacy over international relations.

“India is an exporter of food grains. (But) the kind of arable lands and the population that is dependent on foodgrains (means) India cannot be an exporter,” he told Arab News.

“Rice is exported from those areas which are semi-arid. The way the population is increasing, India needs lots of food grains.

“No doubt India’s standing among the community of nations will get a beating with this kind of decision, but the election is way more important (for the government) than the impression people form about it.”

Other experts say the Indian government should have implemented alternative policies that would have avoided compounding the global food crisis while at the same time stabilizing domestic prices.

“India could have used this opportunity to be a global leader that is helping against a potential food crisis,” Anupam Manur, an international trade economist at the Takshashila Institution in Bengaluru, told Arab News.

“Instead, imposing a ban on an essential commodity at such a time will weaken India’s arguments against other countries weaponizing supply chains by imposing export controls on semiconductors, rare earth elements or medical application programming interface.”




Workers transplant rice paddy in West Bengal, India. (Getty Images)

He added: “If it truly wants to mitigate a domestic price rise, the government can open up the warehouses which have more than adequate rice stocks.

“India might not bend to international pressure, but if domestic production increases, it might yet make a grand gesture of relaxing the ban.”

While such a gesture would ease global concerns, El-Zubi says that many Arab countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Jordan, are in no position to meet their own demand for wheat and rice as they lack the necessary water resources.

“Jordan produces only 3 percent of the wheat it needs,” he told Arab News.

According to him, Arab countries with fragile economies face serious challenges from food shortages, so they should expand the sources from which they buy strategic food staples, diversify payment methods and broaden their food supply chains and routes.


Dead horses, scraps, leaves: Gaza’s hungry get desperate

Dead horses, scraps, leaves: Gaza’s hungry get desperate
Updated 24 February 2024
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Dead horses, scraps, leaves: Gaza’s hungry get desperate

Dead horses, scraps, leaves: Gaza’s hungry get desperate
  • Food is running out, with aid agencies unable to get in to the area because of the bombing

GAZA STRIP: At the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, Abu Gibril was so desperate for food to feed his family that he slaughtered two of his horses.
“We had no other choice but to slaughter the horses to feed the children. Hunger is killing us,” he said.
Jabalia was the biggest camp in the Palestinian territories before the war, which began after Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, leaving some 1,160 dead, based on Israeli figures.
Gibril, 60, fled there from nearby Beit Hanun when the conflict erupted. Home for him and his family is now a tent near what was a UN-run school.
Contaminated water, power cuts and overcrowding were already a problem in the densely populated camp, which was set up in 1948 and covers just 1.4 square kilometers.

A Palestinian couple cooks on a fire, at a school where they shelter, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Jabalia refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip February 22, 2024. (REUTERS)

Poverty, from high unemployment, was also an issue among its more than 100,000 people.
Now food is running out, with aid agencies unable to get in to the area because of the bombing — and the frenzied looting of the few trucks that try to get through.
The World Food Programme this week said its teams reported “unprecedented levels of desperation” while the UN warned that 2.2 million people were on the brink of famine.
On Friday, the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said a two-month-old baby died of malnutrition in hospital in Gaza City, 7 km away from Jabalia.

A displaced Palestinian child carries a ration of red lentil soup, distributed by volunteers in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 18, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

In the camp, bedraggled children wait expectantly, holding plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food is available.
With supplies dwindling, costs are rising. A kilo of rice, for example, has shot up from seven shekels ($1.90) to 55 shekels, complains one man.
“We the grown-ups can still make it but these children who are four and five years old, what did they do wrong to sleep hungry and wake up hungry?” he said angrily.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF has warned that the alarming lack of food, surging malnutrition and disease could lead to an “explosion” in child deaths in Gaza.
One in six children aged under two in Gaza was acutely malnourished, it estimated on Feb. 19.
Residents have taken to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves to try to stave off the growing hunger pangs.
“There is no food, no wheat, no drinking water,” said one woman.
“We have started begging neighbors for money. We don’t have one shekel at home. We knock on doors and no one is giving us money.”
Tempers are rising in Jabalia about the lack of food and the consequences. On Friday, an impromptu protest was held involving dozens of people.
One child held up a sign reading: “We didn’t die from air strikes but we are dying from hunger.”
Another held aloft a placard warning “Famine eats away at our flesh,” while protesters chanted “No to starvation. No to genocide. No to blockade.”
In Beit Hanun, Gibril used two horses to harvest a parcel of land. But the conflict destroyed that, along with his house, leaving him with nothing. Over the weeks and months, Israel’s relentless bombardment has left Gaza largely a place of shattered concrete and lives.
Gibril kept the radical decision to slaughter his horses to himself, boiling the meat with rice, and giving it to his unwitting family and neighbors.
Despite the necessity, he said he was still wary of their reaction. “No one knows they were in fact eating a horse.”
In another development, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reaffirmed Washington’s opposition to any reoccupation of the Gaza Strip by Israel as well as any reduction of the Palestinian territory’s size.
Blinken’s remarks were in response to a plan for post-war Gaza put forward by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which his country’s army would have “indefinite freedom” to operate throughout the Gaza Strip once Hamas is defeated.
“Gaza ... cannot be a platform for terrorism. There should be no Israeli reoccupation of Gaza. The size of Gaza territory should not be reduced,” Blinken said in Buenos Aires, after attending a G20 meeting of foreign ministers in Brazil.
Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for a “firm security response ... and colonization” by building thousands of new housing units in settlements like Maale Adumim and across the West Bank.
Blinken said that “new settlements are counterproductive to reaching enduring peace, and also inconsistent with international law.”
“Our administration maintains firm opposition to settlement expansion. In our judgment, this only weakens, it doesn’t strengthen, Israel’s security.”

 


Tunisia court sentences ex-president Marzouki to 8 years in absentia

Tunisia court sentences ex-president Marzouki to 8 years in absentia
Updated 57 min 5 sec ago
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Tunisia court sentences ex-president Marzouki to 8 years in absentia

Tunisia court sentences ex-president Marzouki to 8 years in absentia
  • Most opposition chiefs were arrested since last year, including Rached Ghannouchi, the head of the Islamist Ennahda party, and Abir Moussi, the leader of Free Constitutional

TUNIS: A Tunisian court sentenced former President Moncef Marzouki to eight years in prison in absentia on Friday on charges of assaulting the state security and inciting Tunisians against each other, a judicial official said.
This is the second prison sentence against Marzouki, who resides in Paris, after a judge sentenced him in 2021 to four years in absentia.
Mohamed Zitouna, the spokesperson of the Tunis court, said the verdict was based on statements by Marzouki that included incitement in a speech he gave in Paris, without giving further details.
Marzouki, who was president from 2011 to 2014, is a fierce critic of President Kais Saied.
Saied closed Parliament, sacked the government and began ruling by decree in 2021, a step that Marzouki and main opposition leaders described as a coup.

BACKGROUND

Mohamed Zitouna, the spokesperson of the Tunis court, said the verdict was based on statements by Marzouki that included incitement in a speech he gave in Paris, without giving further details.

The Tunisian president, who enshrined his new constitutional powers in a referendum with a low turnout in 2022, has denied his actions were a coup and said they were needed to save Tunisia from years of chaos.
Most opposition chiefs were arrested since last year, including Rached Ghannouchi, the head of the Islamist Ennahda party, and Abir Moussi, the leader of Free Constitutional.
Authorities also detained prominent opposition figures Jawher Ben Mbarek, Khayam Turki, Ghazi Chaouachi, Issam Chabbi, Abdelhamid Jalasi and Ridha BelHajj last year in a crackdown on suspicion of plotting against state security.
The opposition accuses Saied of muzzling the press and imposing authoritarian rule, and says his constitutional changes have pulled apart the democracy built after a 2011 revolution.
Saied rejects those accusations and has called his critics criminals, traitors and terrorists and warned that any judge who freed them would be considered abetting them.


‘Environmental disaster’: Yemeni govt demands help to secure Houthi-hit ship

‘Environmental disaster’: Yemeni govt demands help to secure Houthi-hit ship
Updated 24 February 2024
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‘Environmental disaster’: Yemeni govt demands help to secure Houthi-hit ship

‘Environmental disaster’: Yemeni govt demands help to secure Houthi-hit ship
  • US Central Command said that a fuel leak from Rubymar had created an 18-mile-long oil slick in the Red Sea
  • The Yemeni government urged the international community to act quickly

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s internationally recognized government has requested international assistance to control an oil spill and potential chemical leak in the Red Sea caused by a Houthi strike on a cargo ship.
US Central Command, in a statement on Friday, said that a fuel leak from Rubymar — a vessel struck last week by a Houthi missile and abandoned by its crew — had created an 18-mile-long oil slick in the Red Sea.
The 41,000 tons of fertilizer on board the Lebanese-operated, UK-owned and Belize-flagged vessel also risks spilling into the sea and causing an environmental disaster, the statement added.
SABA, Yemen’s state news agency, said Prime Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak had launched an emergency committee, urging other countries and environmental organizations to help prevent ecological damage to the Red Sea.
The Yemeni government urged the international community to act quickly and prevent the ship’s “large amount” of fuel and ammonia from leaking into the sea, adding that Rubymar was struck and abandoned south of the Hanish Islands.
In Sanaa, the Houthis blamed the Rubymar incident on the US and UK, accusing targeted vessels of disregarding warnings and violating the militia’s embargo on Israel.
“The purpose of our military actions is to modify the route of Israeli ships, not to capture, divert or sink them; nonetheless, America’s and Britain’s insistence on breaching Israel’s partial embargo is what prompted this escalation,” Houthi leader Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti said on X.
Since November, the Houthis have seized a commercial ship and launched hundreds of drones and missiles against commercial and naval vessels in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab and the Gulf of Aden, while deterring Israel-linked ships from traversing the Red Sea.
The militia claims that its campaign intends to force Israel into lifting its siege on Gaza.
The Houthi Red Sea assaults have spurred the US to organize an alliance of countries to protect the Red Sea and unleash hundreds of airstrikes on Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.
On Saturday, CENTCOM said that its forces had destroyed seven Houthi mobile anti-ship cruise missiles that were poised to be launched from Yemen at US Navy and foreign commercial ships.
Despite heavy bombardment by the US and UK, the Houthis have pledged to continue assaulting ships in the Red Sea unless Israel permits humanitarian supplies into Gaza.
A group of Yemen specialists have urged the US to supply military aid to the Yemeni government in an effort to undermine the Houthi’s campaign in the Red Sea.
In a joint piece for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank, Nadwa Al-Dawsari, Casey Coombs, Ibrahim Jalal, Kenneth M. Pollack, Baraa Shiban and Katherine Zimmerman questioned the utility of US and UK airstrikes in ending the Houthi Red Sea campaign.
Though the strikes have reduced the frequency and intensity of Houthi attacks, the US must arm and train Yemeni government troops to win against the militia, they said.
“The US should begin fully supporting the government it recognizes in Yemen and providing it with the necessary means to win against the Houthis,” the experts said, adding: “Weakening the Houthis within the context of the civil war is the only way to prevent them from further consolidating their position as the power broker in Yemen and projecting more power abroad, including in the maritime domain.
“And only when they are under direct threat and in a losing position will the Houthis — and perhaps the Iranians — rethink their current behavior.”


Five killed in Syria’s Homs after being targeted by ‘terrorist group’ -state media

Five killed in Syria’s Homs after being targeted by ‘terrorist group’ -state media
Updated 24 February 2024
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Five killed in Syria’s Homs after being targeted by ‘terrorist group’ -state media

Five killed in Syria’s Homs after being targeted by ‘terrorist group’ -state media
  • The victims had been gathering truffles when they were attacked

CAIRO: Five civilians were killed in Syria’s Homs countryside after being targeted by a “terrorist group,” the Syrian state news agency SANA said on Friday, citing a police source.
The victims had been gathering truffles when they were attacked, SANA reported.


Scores killed overnight in Gaza amid negotiations in Paris for truce

Scores killed overnight in Gaza amid negotiations in Paris for truce
Updated 24 February 2024
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Scores killed overnight in Gaza amid negotiations in Paris for truce

Scores killed overnight in Gaza amid negotiations in Paris for truce
  • UN aid body for Palestinians, UNWRA, says Gazans are ‘in extreme peril while the world watches on’
  • The Paris talks come after plan for post-war Gaza by Israeli prime minister drew criticism from the US

Gaza Strip: More than 100 people were reported killed early Saturday in overnight strikes across Gaza, as Israel’s spy chief was in Paris for talks seeking to “unblock” progress toward a truce and the return of hostages held by Palestinian militants.
The Paris negotiations come after a plan for a post-war Gaza unveiled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew criticism from key ally the United States and was rejected by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on Friday.
They also come as fears for civilians in the territory are deepening, with the UN warning of the growing risk of famine and its main aid body for Palestinians, UNWRA, saying early Saturday that Gazans were “in extreme peril while the world watches on.”
AFP footage showed distraught Gazans queuing for food in the territory’s devastated north on Friday and staging a protest decrying their living conditions.
“Look, we are fighting each other over rice,” said Jabalia resident Ahmad Atef Safi. “Where are we supposed to go?“
“We have no water, no flour and we are very tired because of hunger. Our backs and eyes hurt because of fire and smoke,” fellow Jabalia resident Oum Wajdi Salha told AFP.
“We can’t stand on our feet because of hunger and lack of food.”
In a Friday night statement on social media platform X, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said: “Without adequate food and water supplies, as well as health and nutrition services, the elevated risk of famine in #Gaza is projected to increase.”
The war started after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Hamas militants also took hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 29,514 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by Gaza’s health ministry on Friday.
An Israeli air strike Friday destroyed the Gaza home of well-known Palestinian comedian Mahmoud Zuaiter, killing at least 23 people and injuring dozens more, the health ministry said.
The ministry announced early Saturday that at least 103 more people were killed in strikes overnight, with many others believed to be missing under rubble.
Netanyahu on Thursday night presented his war cabinet with a plan for the post-war Gaza Strip that envisages civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.
The plan stipulates that, even after the war, the Israeli army would have “indefinite freedom” to operate throughout Gaza to prevent any resurgence of terror activity, according to the proposals.
It also states that Israel will move ahead with a plan, already under way, to establish a security buffer zone inside Gaza along the territory’s border.
The plan drew criticism from the United States, with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby saying Friday that Washington had been “consistently clear with our Israeli counterparts” about what was needed in post-war Gaza.
“The Palestinian people should have a voice and a vote... through a revitalized Palestinian Authority,” he said, adding the United States also did not “believe in a reduction of the size of Gaza.”
Asked about the plan during a visit to Argentina, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would “reserve judgment” until seeing all the details, but that Washington was against any “reoccupation” of Gaza after the war.
Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan dismissed Netanyahu’s plan as unworkable.
“When it comes to the day after in the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu is presenting ideas which he knows fully well will never succeed,” Hamdan told reporters in Beirut.
Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation led by David Barnea, head of the Mossad intelligence agency, was in Paris on Saturday for a fresh push toward a deal to return the remaining hostages.
Barnea will be joined by his counterpart at the domestic Shin Bet security agency, Ronen Bar, Israeli media reported.
The United States, Egypt and Qatar have all been deeply involved in past negotiations aimed at securing a truce and prisoner-hostage exchanges.
Pressure has been mounting on Netanyahu’s government to negotiate a ceasefire and secure the hostages’ release after more than four months of war, with a group representing the captives’ families planning what it billed as a “huge rally” to coincide with the Paris talks on Saturday night to demand swifter action.
The United States, Egypt and Qatar have all been deeply involved in past negotiations aimed at securing a truce and prisoner-hostage exchanges.
White House envoy Brett McGurk held talks this week with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, after speaking to other mediators in Cairo who had met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.
A Hamas source said the new plan proposes a six-week pause in the conflict and the release of between 200 and 300 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages being held by Hamas.
Barnea and his US counterpart from the CIA helped broker a week-long truce in November that saw the release of 80 Israeli hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
US National Security Council spokesman Kirby had told journalists earlier that so far the discussions were “going well,” while Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz spoke of “the first signs that indicate the possibility of progress.”