Israeli spy chief in Paris for Gaza ceasefire talks

Israeli spy chief in Paris for Gaza ceasefire talks
Israeli spy chief in Paris for Gaza ceasefire talks

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - David Barnea, the head of the Israeli Mossad attends an honour guard ceremony for Israel's incoming military chief Herzi Halevi at Israel's Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv, Israel January 16, 2023. — Reuters file pic

JERUSALEM, Feb 23 — An Israeli delegation led by the head of the country’s overseas intelligence agency arrived in Paris today to “unblock” talks for a ceasefire in Gaza, an Israeli official said.

Mossad director David Barnea will be joined in the French capital by his counterpart at the domestic Shin Bet security agency, Ronen Bar, Israeli media reported.

A week-long ceasefire at the end of November saw the release of more than 100 hostages taken by Hamas militants and 240 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

At the end of January, Barnea was in Paris with his US and Egyptian counterparts as well as the prime minister of Qatar to discuss a new pause in fighting.

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A Hamas source confirmed the plan proposed a six-week pause in the conflict and the release of between 200 and 300 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages still held by Hamas.

Since then, talks have also taken place in Egypt involving Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh. He left Cairo on Thursday evening, the Palestinian militants said.

The talks focused in particular on an end to Israeli “aggression”, the return of displaced people and a prisoner exchange.

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Hamas wants a complete ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed the demands as “bizarre”.

He has said his government is open to a pause in the fighting but has vowed to press on until “total victory” and the complete destruction of Hamas.

Netanyahu is also against the release of Palestinian prisoners who took part in Hamas attacks against Israel.

While Haniyeh was in Cairo, US Middle East envoy Brett McGurk was in Israel where he discussed an “extended pause” in the conflict “to get all of those hostages home”, the White House said.

On the eve of the Paris talks, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant indicated that Israel would “extend the authority given to our hostage negotiators”. He did not elaborate.

The conflict began when Hamas attacked southern Israel on October 7, leaving more than 1,160 people dead, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally from official figures.

Israel in response vowed to destroy Hamas and launched a military offensive that has left at least 29,514 people dead in the Gaza Strip ruled by the militants since 2007.

Most of them are women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza. — AFP

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