Egypt Sends Delegation to Israel, Its Latest Effort to Broker a Cease-Fire Between Israel and Hamas

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt sent a high-level delegation to Israel on Friday with the hope of brokering a cease-fire agreement with Hamas in Gaza, two officials said. At the same time, it warned that a possible Israeli offensive focused on Gaza's city of Rafah -- on the border with Egypt -- could have catastrophic consequences for regional stability.

Egypt's top intelligence official, Abbas Kamel, is leading the delegation and plans to discuss with Israel a "new vision" for a prolonged cease-fire in Gaza, an Egyptian official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the mission freely.

As the war drags on and casualties mount, there has been growing international pressure for Hamas and Israel to reach an agreement on a cease fire.

Friday's talks will focus at first on a limited exchange of hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners, and the return of a significant number of displaced Palestinians to their homes in northern Gaza "with minimum restrictions," the Egyptian official said.

The hope is that negotiations will then continue, with the goal of a larger deal to end the war, he said.

The official said mediators are working on a compromise that will answer most of both parties' main demands.

Hamas has said it will not back down from its demands for a permanent cease-fire and full withdrawal of Israeli troops, both of which Israel has rejected. Israel says it will continue military operations until Hamas is defeated and that it will retain a security presence in Gaza afterwards.

Ahead of the talks, senior Hamas official Basem Naim told The Associated Press "there is nothing new from our side," when asked about the negotiations.

Overnight, Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group fired anti-tank missiles and artillery shells at an Israeli military convoy in a disputed border area, killing an Israeli civilian.

Hezbollah said its fighters ambushed the convoy shortly before midnight Thursday, destroying two vehicles. The Israeli military said the ambush wounded an Israeli civilian doing infrastructure work, and that he later died of his wounds.

Low-intensity fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border has repeatedly threatened to boil over as Israel has targeted senior Hezbollah militants in recent months.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced on both sides of the border. On the Israeli side, the cross-border fighting has killed 10 civilians and 12 soldiers, while in Lebanon, more than 350 people have been killed, including 50 civilians and 271 Hezbollah members.

Meantime, Israel has been conducting near-daily raids on Rafah, a city in which more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million people have sought refuge.

The Israeli military has massed dozens of tanks and armored vehicles in an area of southern Israel that is close to Rafah, in apparent preparations for an invasion of the city.

Rafah also abuts the Gaza-Egypt border. While in Israel, Kamel, who heads Egypt's General Intelligence Service, plans to make clear that Egypt "will not tolerate" Israel's deployments of troops along that border, the Egyptian official said.

The official said Egypt shared intelligence with the United States and European countries showing that a Rafah offensive would inflame the entire region.

A Western diplomat in Cairo also said that Egypt has intensified its efforts in recent days to reach a compromise and establish a short cease-fire in Gaza that will help negotiate a longer truce and avert a Rafah offensive.

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss the developments.

On Wednesday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi cautioned that an Israeli attack on Rafah would have "catastrophic consequences on the humanitarian situation in the strip, as well as the regional peace and security."

El-Sissi's comments came in a phone call with Prime Minister Mark Rutte of The Netherlands, the Egyptian leader's office said.

Egypt has also said an attack on Rafah would violate the decades-old peace deal between Egypt and Israel.

The Israel-Hamas war was sparked by the Hamas' Oct. 7 raid into southern Israel, in which militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took some 250 people as hostages. Israel says the militants are still holding around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to local health officials, around two-thirds of them children and women.