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Mediating in Gaza Conflict, Egypt Seeks Broader Influence

French President Emmanuel Macron waves good-bye to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi after their talks at the Elysee Palace, Monday, May 17, 2021 in Paris. U.N. Security Council diplomats and Muslim foreign ministers convened emergency weekend meetings to demand a stop to civilian bloodshed as Israeli warplanes carried out the deadliest single attacks in nearly a week of Hamas rocket barrages and Israeli airstrikes. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, Pool)

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt on Thursday reasserted itself as an indispensable mediator in the Middle East after it successfully brokered a cease-fire deal in the short but costly Israel-Hamas war that killed scores of people and caused much destruction in the Gaza Strip.

In Cairo, state media said the halt in the fighting would take effect in the early hours of Friday, and that two Egyptian delegations would head to Tel Aviv and the Palestinian territories to follow up on the deal’s implementation.

It’s the latest instance in which Egypt has served as a mediator between Israel and Gaza’s ruling militant Hamas group, which have fought four wars in just over a decade. Egypt borders both Israel and the Gaza Strip, and has been a key player since Israel withdrew troops from Gaza in 2005 and Hamas seized the territory in 2007.

Sine the outbreak of the latest, 11-day war, Egypt worked to provide a framework that both sides could agree on, according to diplomatic officials. It was not immediately clear what the terms of the cease-fire were, but its success is likely to bolster the country’s diplomatic credentials.

“By virtue of geography and its ties to all parties, Egypt is unique in this matter,” said Michael Hanna, the U.S. program director at the International Crisis Group. “And of course, it seeks to demonstrate its regional relevance and influence to all parties concerned, including the United States.”

The role Egypt played in mediating the conflict could help improve the strained ties between President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s government and the new U.S. administration. President Joe Biden spoke for the first time on Thursday with the Egyptian president since being elected, according to el-Sissi’s office, hours before news that Israel had agreed to the Egyptian proposal.

Former President Donald Trump and el-Sissi had forged a close bond, but Biden’s administration has raised concerns over the Egyptian government’s human rights record.

According to the White House, the two leaders discussed Gaza cease-fire efforts and agreed and that the two leaders would stay closely in touch. Biden was to address the cease-fire developments later on Thursday in Washington.

The diplomatic win in Gaza could also gain Egypt some regional prestige in its rivalries, including with Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE last year moved to establish ties with Israel.

Egypt fought four wars with Israel between 1948 to 1973. The two former enemies normalized ties in 1980, and since then have increasingly cooperated on security issues. Israel has praised el-Sissi’s government for its help, and in turn allowed Egyptian forces greater freedom near the border to fight militants in Sinai.

Cairo’s ties with Hamas have at times hung by a thread. Egypt, along with Israel, continues to enforce a blockade that has devastated the Gazan economy. Hamas is a militant Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a political Islamic movement banned in Egypt, and Egypt’s pro-government media often depict Hamas as a threat. Still, Egypt has repeatedly been an intermediator for Hamas, working out cease-fires in the previous three Hamas-Israel conflicts and easing other crises with Israel.