Hopes rise for revival of grain deal as Putin and Erdogan meet for talks

Update Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hand with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting in Sochi. (AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hand with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting in Sochi. (AFP)
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Updated 04 September 2023
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Hopes rise for revival of grain deal as Putin and Erdogan meet for talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hand with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting in Sochi. (AFP)
  • Despite the anticipation surrounding the meeting, no breakthrough agreement appeared to be on the horizon
  • Putin expressed his willingness to re-engage with grain deal once the sanctions on Russian goods were lifted

ANKARA: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan convened in the picturesque Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday evening, reigniting hopes of resurrecting the Ukraine grain export deal.

But experts say that more Western engagement is needed to revive the deal, while Turkiye will continue enshrining its role as a facilitator to communicate Russian demands to its partners in the West and to convince the Kremlin to stick with the deal.

The agreement, previously brokered by the UN and Turkiye a year ago, has been in limbo after Russia quit the deal in July, and the talks aimed at its revival yielded mixed results.

Despite the anticipation surrounding the meeting, no breakthrough agreement appeared to be on the horizon. Russia’s willingness to return to the grain deal was contingent on the Western nations lifting restrictions imposed on Russian products, a stipulation that poses a substantial hurdle to progress.

During their Sochi tete-a-tete, Putin expressed his willingness to re-engage with the grain deal once the sanctions on Russian goods were lifted.

Additionally, he proposed an alternative scheme, involving the dispatch of 1 million tons of grain to Turkiye, with the intention of having it processed and subsequently transferred to six African countries.

The implementation of this proposal would be facilitated by financial support from Qatar to avert an impending food crisis in those regions.

However, this alternative plan does not replace the resumption of grain shipments from Ukraine given that the related quantities are much smaller.

According to data sourced from the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, a significant 57 percent of Ukraine’s grain exports were destined for developing nations, with China being a prominent recipient.

Erdogan’s stance on the matter has been consistent: he seeks to broker a resolution that would allow Ukraine to safely export its grain and secure global food supplies.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Turkiye and Russia continues to deepen, with bilateral trade reaching an impressive $69 billion last year.

Turkiye, a NATO member, has notably refrained from participating in Western sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. Simultaneously, Turkiye has been providing support to Ukraine, including sending arms and endorsing Kyiv’s aspirations to join NATO.

According to Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and chairman of the Istanbul-based think tank EDAM, Turkiye is continuing to play a role of facilitator regarding the grain deal, but it seems that the position has been quite clear that demands tabled by Russia will ultimately necessitate action by Western countries.

“In that sense, Turkiye has no real ability to fulfill Russia’s demands. What Turkiye can do at best is to listen to Russia’s concerns and to communicate them clearly to its partners in the West,” he told Arab News.

Ulgen thinks that there are limits to what Turkiye can deliver via this high-level political dialogue with Putin.

“After the meeting, we haven’t really seen any scope for fast progress on the revitalization of the deal, given that Russia’s formulated demands were more or less the same as those it has expressed in the past and (which have) not been fulfilled by the Western states,” he said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently dispatched a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, outlining “concrete proposals” aimed at reviving the grain deal. However, these proposals did not meet Russian expectations.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan recently met Lavrov in Russia regarding the grain deal, and said it was a “process that tries to better understand Russia’s position and requests, and to meet them.”

Ulgen said: “For Turkiye, there is a degree of diplomatic prestige of trying to be a facilitator of the deal, not only internationally but also multilaterally, especially vis-a-vis the United Nations’ secretary-general. This is the main motivation for Turkiye wanting to continue to operate as a facilitator for the deal itself.”

During the joint press conference with Putin on Monday evening, Erdogan said Turkiye arranged a new package of proposals to address Russia’s complaints, and it expects that it would resolve the ongoing Black Sea grain deal crisis.

Erdogan also urged Ukraine to soften its approach to ensure Russia’s return to the grain deal.

According to Ulgen, the statement about Ukraine should not be read as a strategic change in Turkiye’s position, but as part of Erdogan’s balancing act.

He said: “Turkiye does not want to burn in any way its prospect of outreach and dialogue with neither Russia or Ukraine.”

Prof. Emre Ersen, an expert on Turkiye-Russia relations from Marmara University in Istanbul, thinks that it will be very difficult for Erdogan to convince Putin to return to the grain deal under current conditions, since the West is currently not ready to take steps that would fully satisfy Moscow regarding this issue, for instance in terms of easing the sanctions regarding the SWIFT system.

“Nevertheless, it should be noted that Erdogan is one of the few leaders in NATO who can still talk to Putin which means that there is room for progress,” he told Arab News.

For Russia expert Prof. Mitat Celikpala, from Kadir Has University in Istanbul, the prospects for a swift resolution in the grain deal negotiations between Turkiye and Russia appear poor.

“Erdogan’s handling of the grain deal negotiations has not only solidified Turkiye’s international reputation but has also paved the way for further diplomatic endeavors,"  he told Arab News.

“Currently, Ankara is actively engaged in efforts to extend the proposals initially set forth by the United Nations to the Kremlin in Russia.

“This ambitious endeavor seeks to resurrect the stalled grain deal, which holds considerable economic and humanitarian significance.”

Celikpala, however, cautioned: “Yet, as Ankara pushes forward in its diplomatic pursuits, it is acutely aware of the delicate balancing act it must perform.

"Turkiye recognizes that, despite its earnest intentions, it cannot unilaterally steer the entire negotiation process without aligning itself with its Western partners.”

Beyond the confines of Turkiye’s diplomacy, the US is also making strategic moves to influence the situation. Collaborating with Romania and Moldova, the US is actively exploring alternative export routes to expand Ukraine’s grain exports via the Danube River. 

“That route is likely to be completed shortly, which will increase Western leverage on Russia,” Celikpala noted. 

“Ankara tries to implement a project where there will be two supply channels, one from Ukraine and the other one from Russia, which will make Turkiye a hub for grain processing and exports.

“It is not realistic for Western countries to bolster the Kremlin’s hand and increase its economic clout against Ukraine by expanding trade potential.”

In addition to these challenges, Celikpala highlighted the complexities surrounding the possibility of Kyiv exporting its products via ships in the Black Sea, under Turkiye’s monitoring as a littoral country. Such a scenario could, in his view, inadvertently thrust Ankara into a direct clash with Russia.

“Considering the expectations of all relevant parties, it is unlikely that the grain deal will resume soon, but it will act as a carrot to gather the West, Turkiye, and Russia regularly,” Celikpala said.


Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens

Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens
Updated 25 February 2024
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Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens

Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens
  • Israeli delegation that went to Paris for talks on hostage deal returned on Saturday night
  • Qatar, Egypt and the United States have been spearheading efforts to secure a deal

JERUSALEM: -Israel’s war cabinet has discussed the next steps for negotiations toward a hostage deal and ceasefire in its war with Hamas, as concern deepens over the increasingly desperate situation faced by civilians in the devastated Gaza Strip.
An Israeli delegation that had traveled to Paris for fresh talks on a hostage deal returned to brief the country’s war cabinet on Saturday night, according to an official and local media reports.
National security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a televised interview shortly before the meeting that the “delegation has returned from Paris — there is probably room to move toward an agreement.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the meeting would discuss the “next steps in the negotiations.”
Local media later reported that the meeting had concluded with the cabinet agreeing to send a delegation to Qatar in the coming days to continue the talks.
As with a previous week-long truce in November that saw more than 100 hostages freed, Qatar, Egypt and the United States have been spearheading efforts to secure a deal.
Domestic pressure on the government to bring the captives home has also steadily mounted, with thousands gathering in Tel Aviv Saturday night at what has come to be known as “Hostages Square” to demand swifter action.
“We keep telling you: bring them back to us! And no matter how,” said Avivit Yablonka, 45, whose sister Hanan was kidnapped on October 7.
Anti-government protesters were also out in Tel Aviv, blocking streets and calling for Netanyahu’s government to step down as authorities deployed water cannon and mounted officers in a bid to disperse them.
“They are not choosing the right path for us. Whether it’s (the) economy, whether it’s peace with our neighbors,” 54-year-old software company CEO Moti Kushner said of the government, adding “it looks like they never want to end the war.”

After more than four months of shortages inside the besieged Gaza Strip, the World Food Programme said this week its teams had reported “unprecedented levels of desperation,” while the United Nations warned that 2.2 million people were on the brink of famine.
In northern Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp, bedraggled children held out plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food was available.
Supplies are running out, with aid agencies unable to get into the area because of the bombing, while the trucks that do try to get through face frenzied looting.
“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?” one man said angrily.
Residents have resorted to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves.
The health ministry said on Saturday that a two-month-old baby identified as Mahmud Fatuh had died of “malnutrition” in Gaza City.
Save the Children said the risk of famine would continue to “increase as long as the government of Israel continues to impede the entry of aid into Gaza.”
Israel has defended its track record on allowing aid into Gaza, saying that 13,000 trucks carrying relief supplies had entered the territory since the start of the war.
The war began 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 29,606 people, mostly women and children, according to a Saturday tally from Gaza’s health ministry.
The ministry said early Sunday that another 98 people had been killed overnight, with the Hamas media office reporting strikes along the length of the territory, from Beit Lahia in the north to Rafah in the south.

An AFP reporter said there had been a number of air strikes on Saturday evening in Rafah, a city along the territory’s southern border with Egypt where hundreds of thousands of Gazans have fled to escape fighting elsewhere.
The presence of so many civilians packed into the area has sparked concerns over Israeli plans for troops to finally push into the city, the last major urban center they have yet to enter.
Despite the concerns, including from key ally the United States, Netanyahu signalled Saturday night that the expected push had not been abandoned, adding that “at the beginning of the week, I will convene the cabinet to approve the operational plans for action in Rafah, including the evacuation of the civilian population from there.”
“Only a combination of military pressure and firm negotiations will lead to the release of our hostages, the elimination of Hamas and the achievement of all the war’s goals,” he added.
Netanyahu this week unveiled a plan for post-war Gaza that envisages civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.
It also says Israel will continue with the establishment of a security buffer zone inside Gaza along the territory’s border.
The plan has been rejected by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and drawn criticism from Washington.


Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens

Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens
Updated 15 min 51 sec ago
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Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens

Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens
  • Several Israeli media outlets said Israel tacitly approved a deal and that Israel would send a delegation to Qatar for further discussions
  • Hamas says it has not yet been involved in the latest proposal developed by the US, Egypt and Qatar

JERUSALEM: Israel’s war cabinet has discussed the next steps for negotiations toward a hostage deal and ceasefire in its war with Hamas, as concern deepens over the increasingly desperate situation faced by civilians in the devastated Gaza Strip.

Mediators made progress on an agreement for a weekslong cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and the release of dozens of hostages held in Gaza as well as Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, Israeli media reported Sunday.

Several Israeli media outlets, citing unnamed officials, said it tacitly approved the deal and that Israel would send a delegation to Qatar for further discussions.
Hamas says it has not yet been involved in the latest proposal developed by the United States, Egypt and Qatar, but the reported outline largely matches its earlier demands for the first phase of a truce. 

Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation that had traveled to Paris for fresh talks on a hostage deal returned to brief the country’s war cabinet on Saturday night, according to an official and local media reports.
National security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a televised interview shortly before the meeting that the “delegation has returned from Paris — there is probably room to move toward an agreement.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the meeting would discuss the “next steps in the negotiations.”
Local media later reported that the meeting had concluded with the cabinet agreeing to send a delegation to Qatar in the coming days to continue the talks.
As with a previous week-long truce in November that saw more than 100 hostages freed, Qatar, Egypt and the United States have been spearheading efforts to secure a deal.
Domestic pressure on the government to bring the captives home has also steadily mounted, with thousands gathering in Tel Aviv Saturday night at what has come to be known as “Hostages Square” to demand swifter action.
“We keep telling you: bring them back to us! And no matter how,” said Avivit Yablonka, 45, whose sister Hanan was kidnapped on October 7.
Anti-government protesters were also out in Tel Aviv, blocking streets and calling for Netanyahu’s government to step down as authorities deployed water cannon and mounted officers in a bid to disperse them.
“They are not choosing the right path for us. Whether it’s (the) economy, whether it’s peace with our neighbors,” 54-year-old software company CEO Moti Kushner said of the government, adding “it looks like they never want to end the war.”
After more than four months of shortages inside the besieged Gaza Strip, the World Food Programme said this week its teams had reported “unprecedented levels of desperation,” while the United Nations warned that 2.2 million people were on the brink of famine.
In northern Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp, bedraggled children held out plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food was available.
Supplies are running out, with aid agencies unable to get into the area because of the bombing, while the trucks that do try to get through face frenzied looting.
“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?” one man said angrily.
Residents have resorted to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves.
The health ministry said on Saturday that a two-month-old baby identified as Mahmud Fatuh had died of “malnutrition” in Gaza City.
Save the Children said the risk of famine would continue to “increase as long as the government of Israel continues to impede the entry of aid into Gaza.”
Israel has defended its track record on allowing aid into Gaza, saying that 13,000 trucks carrying relief supplies had entered the territory since the start of the war.
The war began 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 29,606 people, mostly women and children, according to a Saturday tally from Gaza’s health ministry.
The ministry said early Sunday that another 98 people had been killed overnight, with the Hamas media office reporting strikes along the length of the territory, from Beit Lahia in the north to Rafah in the south.
An AFP reporter said there had been a number of air strikes on Saturday evening in Rafah, a city along the territory’s southern border with Egypt where hundreds of thousands of Gazans have fled to escape fighting elsewhere.
The presence of so many civilians packed into the area has sparked concerns over Israeli plans for troops to finally push into the city, the last major urban center they have yet to enter.
Despite the concerns, including from key ally the United States, Netanyahu signalled Saturday night that the expected push had not been abandoned, adding that “at the beginning of the week, I will convene the cabinet to approve the operational plans for action in Rafah, including the evacuation of the civilian population from there.”
“Only a combination of military pressure and firm negotiations will lead to the release of our hostages, the elimination of Hamas and the achievement of all the war’s goals,” he added.
Netanyahu this week unveiled a plan for post-war Gaza that envisages civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.
It also says Israel will continue with the establishment of a security buffer zone inside Gaza along the territory’s border.
The plan has been rejected by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and drawn criticism from Washington.


Economy another victim of war in impoverished Sudan

Economy another victim of war in impoverished Sudan
Updated 25 February 2024
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Economy another victim of war in impoverished Sudan

Economy another victim of war in impoverished Sudan
  • With most banks out of service, the only exchange rate that matters to ordinary Sudanese is on the black market, where the dollar currently goes for around 1,200 Sudanese pounds

PORT SUDAN, Sudan: Before the Sudanese army and paramilitary fighters turned their guns on each other last year, Ahmed used to sell one of Sudan’s main exports: gum arabic, a vital ingredient for global industry.
Now he’s out of business, and his story encapsulates the broader economic collapse of Sudan during 10 months of war.
Since combat between two rival generals began on April 15, Ahmed has been at the fighters’ mercy.
“When the war began, I had a stock of gum arabic in a warehouse south of Khartoum that was intended for export,” Ahmed told AFP, asking to use only his first name for fear of retaliation.
“To get it out I had to pay huge sums to the Rapid Support Forces,” the paramilitaries commanded by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo who are at war with the Sudanese Armed Forces led by Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.
“I had to pay multiple times in areas under their control, before my cargo got to areas controlled by the government,” Ahmed said.
But the government — loyal to the army — “then demanded I pay taxes” on the product, an emulsifying agent used in everything from soft drinks to chewing gum.
When the trucks finally made it to Port Sudan for export on the Red Sea, “authorities again asked for new taxes, and I had to pay storage fees six times more than before the war,” Ahmed said.
His gum arabic — like many other Sudanese products — never made it onto a ship. According to Sudan’s port authorities, international trade fell 23 percent last year.
The finance ministry, which didn’t set a national budget for 2023 or 2024 and has foregone quarterly reports, recently raised the exchange rate for imports and exports from 650 Sudanese pounds to 950.
But that is still far below the currency’s real value.
With most banks out of service, the only exchange rate that matters to ordinary Sudanese is on the black market, where the dollar currently goes for around 1,200 Sudanese pounds.
“It’s a sign of the destruction of the Sudanese economy,” former Sudanese Chamber of Commerce head Al-Sadiq Jalal told AFP.
To make matters worse, a communications blackout since early February has hampered online transactions — which Sudanese relied on to survive.
The war has led industries to cease production. Others were destroyed. Businesses and food stocks have been looted.
The World Bank in September said “widespread destruction of Sudan’s economic foundations has set the country’s development back by several decades.”
The International Monetary Fund has predicted that even after the fighting ends, “years of reconstruction” await the northeast African country.
Sudan suffered under a crippled economy for decades and was already one of the world’s poorest countries before the war.
Under the Islamist-backed regime of strongman Omar Al-Bashir, international sanctions throttled development, corruption was rampant, and South Sudan split in 2011 with most of the country’s oil production.
Bashir’s ouster by the military in 2019 following mass protests led to a fragile transition to civilian rule accompanied by signs of economic renewal and international acceptance.
A 2021 coup by Burhan and Dagalo, before they turned on each other, began a new economic collapse when the World Bank and the United States suspended vital international aid.
More than six million of Sudan’s 48 million people have been internally displaced by the war, and more than half the population needs humanitarian aid to survive, according to the United Nations.
Thousands of people have been killed, including between 10,000 and 15,000 in a single city in the western Darfur region, according to UN experts.
Now the indirect death toll is also rising.
Aid agencies have long warned of impending famine, and the UN’s World Food Programme is “already receiving reports of people dying of starvation,” the agency’s Sudan director Eddie Rowe said in early February.
The Sudanese state “is completely absent from the scene” in all sectors, economist Haitham Fathy told AFP.
Chief among those is agriculture, which could have helped stave off hunger.
Before the war, agriculture generated 35-40 percent of Sudan’s gross domestic product, according to the World Bank, and employed 70-80 percent of the workforce in rural areas, the International Fund for Agricultural Development said.
But the war has left more than 60 percent of the nation’s agricultural land out of commission, according to Sudanese research organization Fikra for Studies and Development.
In the wheat-growing state of Al-Jazira, where RSF fighters took over swathes of farmland south of Khartoum, farmers have been unable to tend their crops. They saw their livelihoods wither away.
From the wheat fields to Ahmed’s gum arabic warehouse, the story is the same.
His savings spent, his stock gone and his future bleak, Ahmed — like much of Sudan’s business class — has closed up shop.


Undeterred by latest US-UK strikes, Houthis target US-flagged oil tanker off Yemen

Undeterred by latest US-UK strikes, Houthis target US-flagged oil tanker off Yemen
Updated 25 February 2024
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Undeterred by latest US-UK strikes, Houthis target US-flagged oil tanker off Yemen

Undeterred by latest US-UK strikes, Houthis target US-flagged oil tanker off Yemen
  • Hours after the US-UK strikes, the Houthis said they had targeted the US-flagged, owned, and operated oil tanker MV Torm Thor in the Gulf of Aden
  • Houthi attacks are disrupting the vital Suez Canal trade shortcut that accounts for about 12 percent of global maritime traffic

WASHINGTON/CAIRO: US and British forces carried out strikes against more than a dozen Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday, officials said, the latest round of military action against the Iran-linked group that continues to attack shipping in the region.

A joint statement from countries that either took part in the strikes or provided support, said the military action was against 18 Houthi targets across eight locations in Yemen including underground weapons and missile storage facilities, air defense systems, radars and a helicopter.

But hours after the strikes, the Houthis said they had targeted the US-flagged, owned, and operated oil tanker MV Torm Thor in the Gulf of Aden. The group’s military spokesman Yahya Sarea announced the new attack in a televised speech early on Sunday.

It was not clear if the attack announced by the Houthis was the same incident referred to by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations agency early on Sunday. The UKMTO said that it received a report of an incident 70 nautical miles east of the port of Djibouti and authorities are currently investigating.

The United States has carried out near-daily strikes against the Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen and have said their attacks on shipping are in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel strikes Gaza.

The months of attacks by Houthis have continued and have upset global trade and raised shipping rates.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the strikes were meant “to further disrupt and degrade the capabilities of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia.”

“We will continue to make clear to the Houthis that they will bear the consequences if they do not stop their illegal attacks, which harm Middle Eastern economies, cause environmental damage and disrupt the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen and other countries,” Austin added.

Earlier this week the Houthis claimed responsibility for an attack on a UK-owned cargo ship and a drone assault on an American destroyer, and they targeted Israel’s port and resort city of Eilat with ballistic missiles and drones.

The group’s strikes are disrupting the vital Suez Canal trade shortcut that accounts for about 12 percent of global maritime traffic, and forcing firms to take a longer, more expensive route around Africa.

No ships have been sunk nor crew killed during the Houthi campaign. However, there are concerns about the fate of the UK-registered Rubymar cargo vessel, which was struck on Feb. 18 and its crew evacuated.

The Houthis say they are targeting Israel-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza, which has been ravaged by the Israel-Hamas war.

Following previous US and UK strikes, the Houthis declared American and British interests to be legitimate targets as well.

Anger over Israel’s devastating campaign in Gaza — which began after an unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7 — has grown across the Middle East, stoking violence involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

 

 


Israel war cabinet meets over Hamas hostage talks

Israel war cabinet meets over Hamas hostage talks
Updated 25 February 2024
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Israel war cabinet meets over Hamas hostage talks

Israel war cabinet meets over Hamas hostage talks
  • “There is probably room to move toward an agreement,” Hanegbi told N12 News television
  • “Such agreement does not mean the end of the war”

JERUSALEM: Israel’s war cabinet convened Saturday after a delegation returned from talks in Paris on a hostage release and ceasefire deal in the war against Hamas.
National security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said before the telephone meeting that members would hear an update on discussions about the conflict in the Gaza Strip, which is now in its fifth month.
The Paris talks saw the head of Israel’s overseas intelligence service Mossad and his counterpart at the domestic Shin Bet security service meeting with mediators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar.
“There is probably room to move toward an agreement,” Hanegbi told N12 News television in an interview, without elaborating.
Israel wants the release of all hostages seized in the October 7 attacks, starting with all women, but Hanegbi added: “Such agreement does not mean the end of the war.”
He also indicated that Israel would not accept any deal between the United States and Saudi Arabia for a Palestinian state.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that Saturday’s meeting would discuss “next steps in the negotiations.”
He also reaffirmed his aim for troops to go into Rafah in southern Gaza, despite widespread concern about the impact on hundreds of thousands of civilians who have fled there to avoid bombardments.
An AFP reporter in Rafah said there had been at least six air strikes on the city on Saturday evening.
Israel’s air, land and sea against Hamas fighters in retaliation for their deadly October 7 on southern Israel has killed at least 29,606 people, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says.
Hamas attacked rural communities and military posts bordering the Gaza Strip, leaving at least 1,160 people dead, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Some 250 hostages were taken, of whom 130 are still in Gaza, although about 30 are thought to be dead, Israel says.
A one-week pause in fighting in November saw more than 100 hostages released, the Israelis among them in exchange for some 240 Palestinians jailed in Israel.
Netanyahu has characterised Hamas’s demands for a ceasefire in Gaza as “bizarre” and vowed to press on with the military campaign until “total victory” over the group.
“Only a combination of military pressure and firm negotiations will lead to the release of our hostages, the elimination of Hamas and the achievement of all the war’s goals,” he said.
The head of Israel’s military, Herzi Halevi, visited the Gaza Strip and also said military action was the most effective way of getting back the hostages.
Combat was “leverage,” he told troops. “We need to continue and apply it strongly... to use it to release the hostages,” he added.
In Tel Aviv, where families and supporters of the hostages gathered again to call for their release, Orna Tal urged the government to “be responsible.”
“We think about them (the hostages) all the time and want them back alive as soon as possible,” said Tal, whose close friend Tsachi Idan was kidnapped from the Nahal Oz kibbutz.
“We’ll protest again and again until they’re back,” she told AFP