Erdogan and Hamas Join Cairo Talks to End Gaza War

As the war in Gaza enters its fifth month, Egypt is hosting a series of talks with various parties to reach a ceasefire deal and a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a Hamas delegation have arrived in Cairo on Wednesday to join the negotiations, which also involve the US, Qatar, and Israel. The talks are seen as a last-ditch effort to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and a wider regional conflict.

One of the most notable participants in the Cairo talks is Turkey’s President Erdogan, who is making his first visit to Egypt since 2012. Erdogan and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have had strained relations for years, mainly due to their divergent views on the Muslim Brotherhood, a political movement that Erdogan supports and Sisi ousted from power in a 2013 coup.

However, the two leaders have recently sought to mend ties and cooperate on regional issues, especially the war in Gaza. Turkey has been a vocal critic of Israel’s offensive and a staunch supporter of Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza. Erdogan has accused Israel of committing “genocide” and “terrorism” against the Palestinians, and has called for an international intervention to stop the war.

Erdogan said his discussions with Sisi would focus on Israel’s aggression in Gaza, and the need to lift the blockade that has been imposed on the territory since 2007. He also said he would raise the issue of human rights and democracy in Egypt, which has been accused of cracking down on dissent and civil society.

Hamas Seeks Prisoner Release in Exchange for Israeli Hostages

Another key player in the Cairo talks is Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that has been fighting Israel since August 2023. Hamas has sent a delegation to Cairo to meet with Egyptian and Qatari mediators, who have been trying to broker a deal that would end the hostilities and secure the release of hostages and prisoners on both sides.

Hamas is holding an estimated 130 Israeli hostages in Gaza, including four civilians and two soldiers who were captured during the war. Israel is holding about 5,000 Palestinian prisoners, including hundreds of Hamas members and leaders. Hamas has demanded the release of all its prisoners in exchange for the Israeli hostages, but Israel has rejected this as unrealistic and disproportionate.

The issue of prisoner exchange has been the main sticking point in the talks, according to Israeli media reports. Egypt and Qatar have been urging Hamas to lower its expectations and accept a more modest deal, such as releasing a few hundred prisoners in the first phase, and negotiating the rest later. However, Hamas has insisted on its original demand, saying it is a matter of dignity and honor.

The Urgency to Prevent a Humanitarian Disaster and a Regional War

The Cairo talks are taking place amid a sense of urgency and pressure to prevent a humanitarian disaster and a regional war. The war in Gaza has killed over 4,000 Palestinians and 100 Israelis, and has injured over 20,000 people on both sides. The war has also devastated Gaza’s infrastructure, health system, and economy, leaving millions of people in dire need of food, water, medicine, and shelter.

Israel has threatened to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, where more than 1.4 million Palestinians are trapped. Rafah is the main entry point for humanitarian aid and the only crossing to Egypt, which has opened its border to allow the passage of wounded and aid workers. Israel says it wants to destroy the tunnels that Hamas uses to smuggle weapons and fighters from Egypt, but humanitarian agencies warn that any military operation in Rafah could lead to a massacre of civilians.

The war in Gaza has also sparked regional tensions and violence, as rockets have been fired from Lebanon and Syria into northern Israel, and Israel has retaliated with airstrikes. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Israel have exchanged fire across their disputed border almost daily since the war began. Hezbollah has not claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks, but Israel blames it for supporting Hamas and Iran, its main patron.

The war has also drawn the attention and involvement of the international community, which has called for an immediate ceasefire and a political solution. The US, the EU, the UN, and the Arab League have expressed their support for the Egyptian-led mediation efforts, and have urged the parties to show restraint and flexibility. The US has also said it will not back any Israeli ground operation in Rafah without a credible plan for protecting civilians.

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