ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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After rejecting Hamas’s demands, Israel said open to talks based on ‘Paris’ proposal

TV report says war cabinet members agreed to draw up formal response to terror group’s conditions for hostage deal, as families of captives demand urgent meeting with them

The war cabinet meets at the IDF's Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on January 18, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
The war cabinet meets at the IDF's Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on January 18, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Members of the war cabinet have reportedly decided to draw up a response to Hamas’s proposal for a hostage release deal, after rejecting its demands for an agreement.

According to reports Friday, Israel is willing to hold talks based on a proposed agreement that Hamas was responding to, but opposes most of the conditions sought by the Gaza-ruling terror group, which include an end to the war sparked by its October 7 attack on southern Israel in which Palestinian terrorists slaughtered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 253 hostage.

The original framework was crafted during a Paris meeting last month of top officials from the US, Israel, Qatar and Egypt.

It reportedly envisioned a three-phase humanitarian pause — with 35 to 40 Israeli hostages, including women, men over the age of 60 and those with serious medical conditions, released during the first six-week phase. Israeli soldiers and the bodies of killed hostages would be released in the second and third phases.

Details regarding the latter phases, as well as the number and identities of Palestinian security prisoners who would be released by Israel, were to be discussed in subsequent negotiations if the sides both agreed to the Paris proposal. Other reports presented different versions of the framework, which has not been officially published.

Hamas offered its response to the framework on Tuesday, demanding that Israel, among other things, release at least 1,500 Palestinian security prisoners, withdraw its troops fully from Gaza, eventually agree to a permanent ceasefire and take steps to reduce its sovereignty on the Temple Mount.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the demands “delusional” and reportedly rejected an Egyptian proposal to send a representative to Cairo in order to move forward with the negotiations.

Israelis block a highway as they demand the release of the hostage from Hamas captivity during a rally in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The war cabinet discussed the Hamas response further Thursday night. Ministers agreed that Israel would not accept another two of the Hamas demands — that the IDF withdraw its forces from the “corridor” that splits the northern and southern Gaza Strip, and allow for the return of civilians to northern Gaza during the first stage of the pause, the Axios news site reported. However, it would be willing to discuss withdrawing troops from the major Gaza population centers during the pause.

These stances were passed along to the mediators, as well as Israel’s rejection of Hamas’s demand that language be added to the agreement pertaining to a permanent ceasefire, Axios said, citing an official who said Israel did not want to commit to refraining from resuming strikes against Hamas after the deal was implemented.

Israel also informed the mediators that it would not discuss a demand included by Hamas for Israel to “lift the siege over Gaza,” the official was quoted as saying. The report said Israel also told the mediators the number of security prisoners Hamas was demanding was not reasonable, as were all demands not related to the Gaza war.

Israeli officials cited in the report said while they were not sending representatives to Cairo for talks now, they were in constant contact with the mediators and were willing to send officials if some of the gaps were closed.

CIA chief William Burns is reportedly due to visit the Egyptian capital in the coming days in an effort to move the talks forward.

File: CIA Director William Burns speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 8, 2023. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP Photo)

The Channel 12 news report said the war cabinet agreed to insist that the release of “heavy” Palestinian security prisoners — apparently meaning those convicted of murder and other grave offenses — be pushed to a later stage of the deal.

National Unity ministers Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot requested that Israel’s response be formally drafted and sent immediately to the Egyptian and Qatari mediators, the TV report said.

Netanyahu rejected the request, instead saying that he wanted to bring the response to the full cabinet in what will likely delay the process by several days, the network said, while noting that it was also less likely to be approved given the many hardline ministers who oppose making significant concessions to Hamas in exchange for the hostages.

It was unclear how that squared with the Axios report saying Israel did in fact pass along a series of responses to the mediators. Channel 12 subsequently said Israel’s response was passed along verbally to the mediators, not formally in writing.

Relatives demand a meeting

Also Friday, relatives of hostages held by Hamas called for an urgent meeting with the war cabinet, sending its members a stinging letter questioning the forum’s commitment to the return of their loved ones.

The letter from the Hostages and Missing Families Forum cited the decision not to send officials to Cairo, reported “government coordination to attack the release deal,” and what is called an “organized campaign of incitement” against the hostages by unspecified media figures.

“The families demand to meet immediately with the members of the cabinet and hear if it is still committed to the release of the hostages, or if the negotiating authority needs to be transferred to a person who sees themself as committed to the saving of life,” the letter said.

Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis kidnapped and held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, February 3, 2024. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

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