Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Sunday to fight deeper into Gaza after his troops endured one of the worst days of losses of their ground war, while militant group Islamic Jihad joined talks in Cairo, a sign diplomacy was still alive.
The arrival of a delegation in Cairo headed by Islamic Jihad’s exiled leader Ziad al-Nakhlala followed talks attended by Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in recent days. Islamic Jihad, while smaller than Hamas, is also holding hostages in Gaza.
The militant groups have so far said they will not discuss any release of hostages unless Israel ends its war in Gaza, while the Israelis say they are willing to discuss only a temporary pause in fighting.
But neither side has publicly walked away from talks that Washington last week described as “very serious”, even as fighting has intensified throughout the Gaza Strip since a truce collapsed at the start of December.
The Cairo talks would centre on “ways to end the Israeli aggression on our people”, said an Islamic Jihad official. The delegation will reaffirm the group’s position that any exchange of hostages will have to secure the release of all Palestinians jailed in Israel, “after a ceasefire is achieved”, the official said.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both sworn to Israel’s destruction, are still believed to be holding more than 100 hostages from among 240 they captured during their Oct 7 rampage through Israeli towns, when they killed 1,200 people.
Since then, Israel has besieged the Gaza Strip and laid much of it to waste, with more than 20,400 people confirmed killed, according to Gaza authorities, and thousands more believed dead under the rubble. The vast majority of the 2.3 million Gazans have been driven from their homes and the United Nations says conditions are catastrophic.
After a week-long truce collapsed at the start of the month, fighting has only intensified on the ground, with war spreading from the north of the Gaza Strip to the full length of the enclave.