New Delhi: A British Muslim leader’s contention that Egypt is the only country that can broker a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas seems to hold water as Cairo has better leverage with both sides than current mediator Qatar.
“The only regional country that can broker a ceasefire or hostage release is Egypt, not Qatar,” Ghanem Nuseibeh, Chairman of the UK’s Muslims Against Antisemitism, posted on his X handle on Monday. Nuseibeh is an acknowledged expert on West Asia and was formerly a Senior Visiting Fellow at King’s College London and a Network Fellow at the Harvard University Edmond J Safra Center for Ethics. He also serves on the All Arab News Advisory Board.
His comment on Monday comes even as Qatar, on behalf of Hamas, offered two options to Israel for the release of hostages the Palestinian militant group has been holding in Gaza since the war between the two sides erupted on October 7. The first suggestion is for Hamas to release 53 children and women in exchange for a three-day ceasefire and the entry of a certain amount of fuel into the Gaza Strip, Xinhua news agency reported citing a Palestinian source.
The second suggestion is for Hamas to release 87 hostages in exchange for the release of Palestinian women and children and some security prisoners, a ceasefire for five days, and the entry of a larger amount of fuel. According to the report, Israel insisted on the release of all mothers and children detained by Hamas and conveyed a message that it was possible to discuss additional days of calm in exchange for the release of more abductees.
Hamas had taken nearly 250 people hostage after its October 7 attack on Israel. Later, four of the hostages, including two American citizens, were released while one hostage was rescued by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). According to IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Cornicus, Hamas is currently holding at least 240 people hostage. Prior to October 7 when the Israel-Hamas war erupted, there were nearly 5,200 Palestinians, including 33 women and 170 minors, lodged in Israeli jails. However, after October 7, this number has increased to around 7,000, according to information available on the website of Addameer, a prisoners’ rights NGO. These include 62 women and 200 children.
Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani had, however, said on Sunday that the challenges to the Israel-Hamas war hostage deal were logistical. This is obviously because Hamas would like to keep the locations where it is holding the hostages secret. It is in light of this that Nuseibeh’s comment seems logical. According to R Dayakar, former Indian Ambassador to Iraq and Jordan who also served in the West Asia desk of the Ministry of External Affairs, Nuseibeh’s statement has some rationale as Egypt has diplomatic leverage with both Israel and Hamas.
“As the first Arab country to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, Egypt has maintained contacts with Tel Aviv uninterrupted,” Dayakar told ETV Bharat. “Its image is one of a leader in the Arab world. For Gaza, Egypt has been the lifeline and after October 7, it has channelled the humanitarian supplies to the beleaguered civilians in the narrow strip of land on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea.”
Dayakar also pointed out that Egypt’s territorial contiguity with Gaza will ease logistical issues in the event of an agreement on the exchange of Israeli hostages in Hamas custody with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. “However, Hamas’s ideological propinquity with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian regime’s known antipathy to the latter is a source of deep distrust between the two,” he said.
At the same time, Dayakar pointed out that the hostages issue has to be addressed quickly and time is of the essence. “Already Qatar’s initiative has achieved considerable progress and a change of horses in midstream may not be advisable,” he said.