Egypt is continuing its regional and international contacts to advance a prisoner exchange deal between Palestinian resistance groups and Israel amid Tel Aviv’s attempts to impede an agreement.
An informed source revealed that Egypt is focusing on the US and Qatari tracks to advance the ongoing consultations and complete an imminent prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel.
The source told Asharq Al-Awsat that Egypt would continue its intense efforts regardless of Israeli statements, which always change because of the various political positions of certain parties within the Israeli government.
Regional and international parties
Regarding the coordination between regional and international parties, the source indicated that Egypt is open to all parties and supports any efforts that improve the situation in the Gaza Strip.
He stressed that contacts with American authorities are “progressing,” primarily since Washington wants the release of detainees, especially dual US citizens. He added that coordination with Qatar is taking place at the “highest levels.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced at a press conference on Saturday that no prisoner exchange had been agreed upon with Hamas, stressing that information related to any agreement to release the hostages would be revealed “if and when” tangible developments occurred.
Days earlier, he had told US television that “an agreement is imminent.”
Hamas captured 239 Israeli and foreign hostages during its October 7 operation, according to the Israeli authorities. The movement has not revealed how many captives it is holding, but it announced that some have been killed in the Israeli strikes on Gaza.
On Saturday, al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military arm, said it had lost contact with groups that were protecting the Israeli prisoners, adding that their fate “is still unknown.”
Egypt and Qatar
Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met with Qatar’s Minister of State for International Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Lolwah al-Khater in Cairo as part of her visit to deliver Qatari aid to Gaza.
According to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, the discussions addressed joint efforts to enhance the delivery of humanitarian and relief aid to the Palestinian people.
The ministers tackled Egypt and Qatar’s efforts to stop the war on Gaza, stressing the inevitability of achieving an immediate ceasefire.
They asserted that perpetrators should be held accountable, and Israel must comply with its obligations as the occupying power.
Meanwhile, the Elysee said French President Emmanuel Macron discussed with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi the ongoing negotiations to release the captives.
The French presidency said the leaders tackled the hostages’ situation and measures to release them.
Macron noted that the release of the hostages, including eight French nationals, is an absolute priority for Paris and that they must be “freed without delay.”
He reiterated the need for an immediate truce leading to a ceasefire as civilian casualties in Gaza are increasing and hospitals and schools are being bombed.
Separately, Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani confirmed Sunday that the main sticking points blocking a deal for releasing the hostages were now “very minor” and mainly practical and logistical issues.
“The deal is going through ups and downs from time to time throughout the last few weeks. But I think that you know I’m now more confident that we are close enough to reach a deal that can bring the people safely back to their homes.”
Expert on Israeli affairs at al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Saeed Okasha pointed out that negotiations to release the captives are ongoing despite the Israeli statements.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat that Qatar and Egypt are leading their negotiations and sometimes coordinating with each other.
The US is relying on Qatar given its ties to and financial support of Hamas, he noted. However, he asserted that an agreement can only be concluded with coordination with Egypt.
Head of the Israeli Internal Security Service (Shin Bet) Ronen Bar visited Egypt in mid-November and met senior officials to discuss an expected deal to release the captives, according to Israeli media.
Okasha confirmed that the Israeli government’s positions regarding the prisoner file are affected by internal disputes, explaining that several members of the war cabinet view a prisoner deal as “a victory for Hamas.”
He added that Isarel’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza reflects its desire to kill the prisoners to ensure they won’t become a political pressure card against the government.
Israeli society is facing a dilemma between wanting to release the captives and continuing the war to eliminate Hamas.
Israeli protests against the government’s position on prisoners have increased in recent days.
Led by the families of captives in Gaza, thousands organized a massive march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to pressure the government to release prisoners and detainees.
Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh had declared on Thursday that Israel will not recover its captives until it has paid the price as “determined by the movement,” stressing it is ready for a “long battle.”