Israel, Hamas Truce Talks, Mediated by Egypt, May Include Prisoner Exchange

Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have been invited by Egyptian authorities to separate truce talks mediated by Egypt and those talks may include a prisoner exchange, an Egyptian intelligence official told the Associated Press Thursday.

The talks are aimed at reinforcing the cease-fire that put an end to 11 days of violent warfare between Israel and Hamas rulers from the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian official who spoke anonymously said the talks could begin next week and there are discussions of Palestinian prisoners being exchanged for the release of Israelis by Hamas.

"We are seeking a long-term truce, that would enable further discussions and possibly direct talks," the Egyptian official said.

An anonymous Israeli official declined to confirm whether they would attend the talks, but the Egyptian official said Israel has given an initial approval, according to the Associated Press.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Palestinian Child Rides Bicycle Amid Ruins
A Palestinian child rides his bicycle in front of the ruins of a building destroyed during recent Israeli bombing in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 26, 2021. Egypt has invited Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to separate truce talks. Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images

The talks would also focus on accelerating the reconstruction process in Gaza.

The Egyptian official had close knowledge of the proceedings that had led to the ceasefire and spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't allowed to brief reporters.

The 11-day war killed more than 250 people, mostly Palestinians, and caused heavy destruction in the impoverished coastal territory. Preliminary estimates have put the damage in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Egypt was key in mediating a deal between the two sides.

He said that a final agenda for the talks is still in the works. Both issues were discussed with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his visit yesterday, and with the Qatari Foreign Minister who was in Cairo on Tuesday.

An Israeli official said that the government is working closely with Egyptian officials 'to reinforce the cease-fire.' He spoke on a condition of anonymity because he was discussing behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

Blinken wrapped up a two-day Mideast visit Wednesday also aimed at solidifying the ceasefire and raising money for reconstruction. One of the U.S. goals is to ensure that any assistance be kept out of the hands of Hamas, which opposes Israel's right to exist and which Israel and the U.S. consider a terrorist group.

The Egyptian official said one possible mechanism for ensuring that is an international committee led by Egypt or the United Nations that would oversee the spending.

Abdelatif al-Qanou, a spokesman for Hamas, confirmed that the group's leader Ismail Haniyeh would visit Cairo next week and that the group is open to discussing a prisoner swap.

El-Qanoua said the talks in Cairo would also address ways to achieve Palestinian unity between those in Gaza and Israeli-occupied areas of the West Bank.

There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian Authority on its attendence.

The Gaza Strip has been governed by Hamas since the group seized power from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, which resulted in a tight blockade by Israel and Egypt. Since then, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has governed autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and has limited influence in Gaza.

The war was triggered by weeks of clashes in Jerusalem between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on a hilltop compound revered by Jews and Muslims that has seen several outbreaks of Israeli-Palestinian violence over the years. The protests were directed at Israel's policing of the area during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.