PM Bennett invited to Egypt: Progress towards release of Israeli captives?

Egypt’s importance as a player in the region, as well as its ability to influence Hamas leadership, were made clear during May’s Operation Guardian of the Walls.

By Tobias Siegal, World Israel News

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was invited on Wednesday for an official visit to Egypt in the coming weeks by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office read.

The invitation was relayed by Egyptian Intelligence Minister Abbas Kamel who arrived in Israel on Wednesday amid reports of a potential breakthrough in the negotiations with Hamas that may soon see the transfer of Qatari funds into Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages being held by the Gaza-based terror group.

Bennett’s official visit would be the second one of an Israeli prime minister in Egypt since 2011, when former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with president Hosni Mubarak in the Sinai resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

In June, shortly after Bennett’s government was sworn in, the newly-appointed prime minister held a phone call with his Egyptian counterpart and urged him to continue his effort of advancing the release of Israeli captives held by Hamas.

During Bennett’s meeting with Kamel on Wednesday, “the two discussed diplomatic, security and economic aspects of Israel-Egypt relations, as well as the Egyptian mediation in the security situation vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Bennett’s meeting with Kamel could be seen as Israel’s latest attempt of convincing Egypt to take on a more dominant position in regards to releasing Israeli captives held in Gaza. Last month, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with his Egyptian counterpart in Brussels, with the same issue reportedly being high on the meeting’s agenda.

Egypt’s importance as a player in the region, as well as its ability to influence Hamas leadership, were made clear during May’s Operation Guardian of the Walls, when Cairo helped secure the truce between Israel and Hamas.

Following the operation, Israel announced that it would not allow any aid into Gaza unless Hamas releases two Israeli civilians being held captive for years and the remains of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin.

However, it seems like Bennett’s government has agreed to shift its strategy regarding civilian relief to Gaza population, as some 1,000 traders from the Gaza Strip were allowed into Israel on Wednesday, for the first time after over a year, and the shipment of goods into the Strip expanded.

This may all point to a brewing breakthrough in the negotiations between Hamas and Israel regarding the issues of Qatari funds and the release of Israeli hostages.