Israeli negotiators head to Cairo for further hostage talks, as PM toughens stance

Netanyahu rules out Philadelphi compromise; Biden aide Sullivan says ‘all remaining issues can and should be resolved’; Hamas says it has yet to be updated, claims Israel stalling

Families and supporters of Israeli hostages, held by the Palestinian terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip since October 7, march to urge a deal for the hostages' release, along the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway near Shoresh. (Menahem Kahana / AFP)
Families and supporters of Israeli hostages, held by the Palestinian terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip since October 7, march to urge a deal for the hostages' release, along the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway near Shoresh. (Menahem Kahana / AFP)

Israeli negotiators were departing for Cairo Thursday evening for further mediated deliberations on a hostage-for-ceasefire deal with Hamas, the Prime Minister’s Office said, after talks in Doha Wednesday.

The delegation was headed by Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar and included IDF representatives.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office also said the premier met with his negotiating team in the morning after its return from Qatar on Wednesday night. In Doha, the team headed by Mossad Director David Barnea discussed with the heads of the American, Qatari and Egyptian teams “the parts of the deal dealing with the return of the hostages and the ways to implement the proposal.”

Netanyahu’s office stressed that the conversations only examined ways to bring the hostages home while “ensuring that all the war aims” are achieved.

The cabinet was expected to meet on Thursday evening to further discuss the negotiations.

In a speech Thursday afternoon at a graduation ceremony of the IDF’s officers school, Netanyahu vowed Israel would continue the war against Hamas “until we achieve all its objectives.” He listed the goals of the war as “the elimination of Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip, the return of all our hostages home, thwarting any future threat to Israel from Gaza,” and the return of displaced Israelis to their homes in the south and north.

“There are those who ask how long the campaign will continue,” Netanyahu went on. “I say two words: Until victory. Until victory, even if it takes time.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief Herzi Halevi speak during a graduation ceremony at the IDF’s officers school in southern Israel on July 11, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)

He said he was committed to Israel’s framework for a deal, “but the murderers of Hamas are still sticking to demands that contradict the framework and endanger the security of Israel. As the prime minister of Israel, and out of national responsibility, I am not prepared to agree to these demands.

“That’s why I stand firmly on the four crucial principles for Israel’s security, which exist in the framework,” he went on, and specified the four non-negotiable conditions for a deal that he first set out on Sunday, calling them “iron principles.”

However, he toughened two of those four previously declared non-negotiable terms.

Any deal, he said Thursday, “must allow Israel to resume fighting until all the goals of the war are achieved.” It must also prevent weapons from being smuggled into Gaza from Egypt, “primarily by means of Israeli control of the Philadelphi Corridor and the Rafah Crossing,” he went on, adding the references to the Philadelphi Corridor and Rafah a day after Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had offered leeway as regards the Gaza-Egypt border corridor.

Furthermore, said Netanyahu on Thursday, any deal must prevent “the return of armed terrorists, and the entry of weapons, to the north of the Strip.” And finally, he said, any deal must, “already in the first stage of the framework, maximize the number of living hostages that will be freed.” He had not specified the “first stage” when declaring this demand on Sunday.

He said he was sure that if Israel stands behind these conditions, “we’ll achieve a deal that will free our hostages and also ensure that we will continue to fight until all aims are achieved. The way to free our hostages is to continue to pressure Hamas with all our strength.”

US White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan delivers the keynote address at NATO 75th anniversary summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, on July 9, 2024. (Drew Angerer/AFP)

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday there was “progress” in the talks.

“We see the possibility that a deal will be reached, but we can’t know that for sure,” he added. “We think that all remaining issues can be resolved and should be resolved. The signs are more positive today than they have been in recent months.”

Meanwhile, Hamas said in a statement on Thursday that mediators had not yet provided the group any updates regarding Gaza ceasefire negotiations.

It also said that Israel continues to “stall” to gain time and thwart the current round of ceasefire talks.

Mossad chief David Barnea at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, May 12, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The Israeli-drafted outline for a hostage deal and truce in Gaza proposed a phased deal that would include a “full and complete” six-week ceasefire that would see the release of a number of hostages, including women, the elderly, and the wounded, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners.

During these 42 days, Israeli forces would also withdraw from densely populated areas of Gaza and allow the return of displaced people to their homes in northern Gaza.

Ronen Bar, head of the Shin Bet security agency, attends a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, May 5, 2024. (Chain Goldberg/Flash90)

Over that period, Hamas, Israel, and mediators would also negotiate the terms of the second phase that could see the release of the remaining male hostages, both civilians and soldiers. In return, Israel would free additional Palestinian security prisoners and detainees. The third phase would see the return of any remaining hostages, including bodies of dead captives, and the start of a years-long reconstruction project.

The sides have been reported to differ on core aspects of the transition from the halt in fighting in the first stage to a potential permanent ceasefire. Israel is demanding “an exit point” between the two stages, in line with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence that the war will not end until Hamas is destroyed. Hamas, by contrast, wants the initial ceasefire maintained for as long as is needed until negotiations are finalized on a permanent ceasefire and end to the war, which Jerusalem says could enable Hamas to drag out the talks indefinitely.

Negotiations mediated by Qatar, Egypt and the US have so far failed to secure a truce in Gaza and release of captives there, since a weeklong ceasefire in November saw Hamas free 105 hostages in return for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

However, talks progressed after Hamas recently said it dropped its demand that the framework include an upfront commitment from Israel to end the war during the first phase — though the terror group is still demanding a commitment to that effect from mediators.

It is believed that 116 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza though not all of them are alive. Aside from the 105 hostages released in November, four were released prior to that, and seven hostages have been rescued by troops alive. The bodies of 19 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 42 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

Hamas has also been holding two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip in 2014 and 2015, as well as the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed in 2014.

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