April 24, 2024

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Talks between Israel and Hamas about the release of hostages and a ceasefire

Talks between Israel and Hamas about the release of hostages and a ceasefire

Talks between Israel and Hamas over the release of dozens of Israeli hostages held in Gaza have faltered, dampening hopes that an agreement could be reached before the start of Ramadan in a few days, according to several people familiar with the talks.

Negotiators were discussing a proposal for an initial six-week ceasefire during which Hamas would release about 40 people – including women, the elderly, sick hostages, and five Israeli female soldiers – in exchange for a large number of Palestinian prisoners.

The discussions included conditions for the release of at least 15 prisoners convicted of serious terrorist acts, to be exchanged for female soldiers. The terms also stipulate that Israel will release hundreds of other detainees or prisoners, at a rate of 10 Palestinians for every Israeli civilian released, the officials said.

American officials said they hoped to reach an agreement to release some hostages and a temporary cessation of fighting before the month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin on Sunday. President Biden expressed confidence last week that an agreement is within reach.

But in recent days, Hamas backed away from the proposed agreement and made demands that Israel refused to meet, according to officials familiar with the talks. The negotiations took place in Doha, Qatar, before moving to Cairo in recent days.

John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, said on Wednesday that although the United States is disappointed that no agreement was reached, negotiators remain confident in the parameters of the agreement they helped negotiate.

He added: “It's just a matter of convincing Hamas to sign.”

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Mr. Kirby said that Hamas engaged in proposals and counter-proposals, and worked with other parties to develop the framework of the agreement.

He added: “There has been a lot of back-and-forth on the details, but the fact that we have not reached that point yet indicates that the details have not been fully finalized yet.”

One official in the region said the main point of difference is the same one that has been clouding the talks for weeks: Hamas wants Israel to now adhere to a permanent ceasefire during or after three phases of hostage release, while Israel refuses to do so. So. Israel wants to focus on an agreement for the terms of the first phase only, a position supported by the United States. So far, discussions about the first phase have focused on the possibility of releasing these 40 people, out of about 100 remaining hostages.

The Israeli delegation did not attend the Cairo sessions due to Hamas's new demands. Israeli officials said they believe that a broad consensus has been reached regarding the first phase of the agreement, but Hamas is renewing its efforts for broader demands.

The official in the region said that in addition to the permanent ceasefire, Hamas also insists on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from northern Gaza after the third phase of the hostage release and an increase in aid to Gaza, with a guarantee that half of it will go to northern Gaza. . The officials said that these demands could be reached between the Israeli government and Hamas.

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People familiar with the talks in Egypt refused to reveal their names or nationality, citing the fragile nature of the negotiations. A Hamas official did not respond to a request for comment.

The United States was pressing to reach an agreement before the month of Ramadan, fearing that the situation would become more complicated during the holy month of fasting. Frustration and anger could then flare, making reaching an agreement much more difficult, US officials said.

US officials continue to press for an agreement. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Washington with Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's war cabinet who may eventually compete with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his position.

After the meeting, State Department chief spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement that Mr. Blinken “stressed the importance of reaching an agreement to achieve the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, which will lead to a temporary ceasefire and ceasefire.” Allowing additional humanitarian aid to enter Gaza.”

On the same day, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, the most senior Qatari negotiator in the hostage talks, spoke with Mr. Blinken separately in Washington during a previously scheduled meeting on shared strategic concerns. Both men He told reporters It was important to try to release the hostages and find some form of ceasefire.

Qatar and Egypt are submitting proposals to Hamas’ political and military leaders. The United States tried to formulate broad proposals to resume the talks after encountering several obstacles following an initial seven-day pause in November, during which Hamas released about 100 hostages, most of them civilians.

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People familiar with the negotiations believe that Hamas issued new demands for several reasons.

On February 28, Ismail Haniyeh, the Qatar-based political leader of Hamas, publicly called for a Ramadan march in Jerusalem at Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Jews as the Temple Mount. Some Israeli officials believe that the military wing of Hamas wants these protests to turn into violence. Hamas may want to avoid reaching a ceasefire agreement for fear of being accused of violating it if protests become violent.

Hamas believes, according to people familiar with the talks, that any action at the mosque would demonstrate its strength despite Israel’s months-long military campaign in Gaza, and could increase pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to end the fighting.

But Hamas may have presented new demands during the negotiations for another reason.

Last Thursday, Israeli forces opened fire in Gaza as a crowd of people gathered near a long convoy of aid trucks. The chaotic scene led to the deaths of more than 100 people.

American officials strongly criticized Israel's handling of the convoy and its failure to provide security for the desperate Palestinian people.

Some officials briefed on the talks say Hamas leaders may believe that the deaths around the humanitarian convoy strengthened their negotiating position and weakened Israel's international standing.

Adam Rasgon He contributed reporting from Jerusalem.