Gabi Ashkenazi arrives in Cairo to seek Egyptian help in prolonging the ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza, keeping Israeli hostages on the agenda.
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
An Israeli diplomatic delegation headed by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi arrived in Cairo Sunday for talks aimed at shoring up the recently achieved ceasefire in Gaza and pushing Israel’s demand that Hamas return Israel hostages it has been held prisoner for years.
A ministry statement said that talks with Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry will include bilateral issues to strengthen economic and trade relations as well as focusing on the mechanisms for maintaining the May 20 ceasefire that brought an end to the intense fighting sparked by a Hamas rocket attack on Jerusalem May 10.
The ministry said that Ashkenazi will push for a commitment to the return of two Israeli civilians and the remains of two Israeli soldiers being held hostages by the Iran-backed Hamas terror group in Gaza.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared to dampen any hopes of a hostage release or exchange during his visit to the region last week, saying that while America understands the need to return Israeli hostages held by Hamas, the stabilization of the ceasefire in Gaza was the highest priority.
In a separate visit, the head of Egyptian general intelligence, Abbas Kamel, will hold talks in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Walla! News reported.
Arab Affairs analyst Yoni Ben Menachem of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs said that according to Egyptian sources, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, the Egyptian outline for long-term calm in the Gaza Strip includes opening the Israeli and Egyptian border crossings, reopening the offshore fishing zone, transferring humanitarian aid into Gaza and renewing the electricity supply from Israel that had been damaged by Hamas rockets during the conflict.
They Egyptians are also pushing for a reconciliation between Abbas’ Fatah movement and Hamas so that the Palestinian Authority will received the $1.3 billion in foreign aid pledged so far for Gaza – allowing the funds to be used without being siphoned off by Hamas.
Egypt will also broker indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas for a new prisoner exchange deal in which the hostages will be returned to Israel. Hamas has already told the Egyptians, however, that Israel was not willing to pay the price it demanded for the deal that likely involves the release of hundreds of convicted terrorists from Israeli jails.
The ceasefire conditions also include: an Israeli commitment to maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem; a freeze on evicting Palestinian families from houses they occupy in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem; an Israeli commitment not to attack senior Hamas figures; and a renewal of the peace negotiations between Israel and the PA.
“Israel … is unwilling to recognize a Palestinian government in which the Hamas terrorist organization will sit,” Ben Menachem noted, adding that this scenario has been a roadblock in previous negotiations given that unlike Abbas, Hamas refuses to give up on terrorism and totally rejects the peace process.
Despite the obstacles, President Biden spoke on the phone with Egyptian President al-Sisi last week and thanked him for Egypt’s “successful diplomacy” that led to the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
With media pressure being exerted mostly on Israel, former U.S. ambassador to Israel Dennis Ross slammed those who failed to acknowledge the negative role played by the Iran-backed Hamas terror group.
“One of the troubling realities these days is the historical ignorance about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Ross tweeted. “Hamas is portrayed as part of the oppressed when it oppresses Gazans, persecutes gays, and uses its tunnels to protect its rockets and its public as human shields.”
Ross noted that massive investment in reconstruction in Gaza was useless “if Hamas can retain its rockets and destroy the investment at any time.”
Israel Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz ,who accompanied Ashkenazi, tweeted earlier that Ross’ comments hit the nail on the head.
“Hamas is not just part of the problem, it is THE problem preventing any prospects of prosperity and security for Gaza,” Ushpiz tweeted.