Talks in Cairo Aim for a Deal to Halt Gaza War and Free Hostages

Egyptian officials have been quoted as saying that any action that sends Gazans spilling into Egyptian territory could jeopardize the decades-old peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, an anchor of stability in the Middle East. But on Monday, Egypt offered assurances that the treaty would stand.

Many Palestinians say that Israel wants to expel them, and they fear that if they ever left, Israel would not allow them back in — just as Arabs who fled or were expelled from Israel at its formation have not been permitted to return.

Mr. Netanyahu, vowing to crush Hamas, has described Rafah as its last stronghold in Gaza. Securing the city, he has said, is critical to preventing another attack like the one on Oct. 7, when militants led by Hamas killed about 1,200 people in Israel and abducted more than 250 others, according to Israeli officials.

On Monday, after Israeli commandos freed two of the hostages held in Rafah, Mr. Netanyahu said that “only continued military pressure, until total victory, will bring about the release of all of our hostages.”

Harel Chorev, a researcher at Tel Aviv University, said the rescue could be used to strengthen Mr. Netanyahu’s argument for an expanded ground invasion.

“It shows that military pressure works, and that at the end of the day, it can justify Israel’s position regarding the necessity to go into Rafah,” Mr. Chorev said.

But Ibrahim Dalalsha, the director of Horizon Center for Political Studies and Media Outreach in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said the high Palestinian death toll from the raid could spur Egypt, the U.S. and Qatar to push harder for a deal.

At least 67 people were killed in Israeli attacks that accompanied the rescue operation, according to the Gazan health ministry. More than 28,000 people in Gaza have been killed in Israel’s military campaign, the health ministry says.

“They want to avoid further operations like these with their human casualties and the possibility of the hostages being killed,” Mr. Dalalsha said.

Since Oct. 7, Israel has conducted an intense aerial bombardment and ground invasion, concentrated at first in northern Gaza and then working its way southward. It has repeatedly told civilians to evacuate, displacing many of them multiple times and squeezing them steadily into a smaller space and more squalid conditions. Rafah has been the last area remaining where it told Gazans to take refuge — and even it has not been immune to airstrikes.