Protesters call on government to reach a deal

After release of hostage video, war cabinet okays resumption of stalled truce talks

Source says ministers approved new guidelines for negotiators to try and reach a breakthrough; Egypt said to be making initial contacts with Israel, Hamas

Protesters call for the release of the Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza at a demonstration in Tel Aviv, May 22, 2024. (Yair Palti/Gil Levin/Israeli Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

The war cabinet approved the resumption of indirect talks with Hamas for the release of hostages early Thursday, with a source telling Hebrew media that the negotiating team was handed new guidelines to try and make an elusive breakthrough.

The source, who was briefed on the details of the high-level meeting, didn’t give any details on the guidelines, while a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said only that the war cabinet ordered the negotiating team “to continue negotiations for the return of the hostages.”

On October 7, thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 252 hostages. About half of them remain captive in Gaza.

At the meeting, IDF Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, who is one of the negotiators, presented an updated plan after a previous proposal was shot down on Saturday night by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

A source told Kan that the team did not get everything it asked for “but at least progress can be made.”

One of the points in the new proposal was a compromise on an issue of contention with Hamas, but came with a stiffening of the Israeli position on other matters that the two sides did not agree on, the report said without offering further details.

FILE – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz at a Tel Aviv press conference, October 28, 2023 (YouTube screenshot)

Talks have revolved around the format of a staged hostage release in return for a temporary truce and the release of at least several hundred Palestinian security prisoners held by Israel.

The largest stumbling block has been Hamas’s insistence on Israel ending the war.

The three-member war cabinet, formed after October 7, comprises Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Minister Benny Gantz. Several others participate in the meetings as observers.

Ahead of the meeting, the Hostage Families Forum issued an urgent request to meet with the members of the war cabinet to discuss efforts to revive the hostage talks.

Gallant, Gantz, and observers Aryeh Deri and Gadi Eisenkot all agreed to the hostage families’ request for a meeting.

Only Netanyahu and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer refused, Hebrew media reported.

The request came after the families of hostages released harrowing footage showing the abduction of five female soldiers from the Nahal Oz base by Hamas terrorists on October 7, with some of the parents saying their goal in releasing the video was to wake up the country, and especially the leadership, to work more urgently to secure their release.

Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, May 22, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

As the war cabinet convened inside the IDF’s Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, several hundred people demonstrated outside calling on the government to agree to a hostage deal with Hamas. There was a similar demonstration in Jerusalem.

In Tel Aviv, protesters lit bonfires in the street, blocking traffic in both directions. Some participants dressed as bound and bloodied female soldiers, a reference to concerns that the captives are being sexually assaulted while in captivity. During the Hamas assault on the country, terrorists committed widespread atrocities including gang rape.

Einav Zangauker, whose son Matan is a hostage, said “This evening is a hostage night” after the release of the video showing the soldiers whom, she charged, have been abandoned by the state.

“Let’s bring them home,” she said, adding that while “the government gave up, the people will bring [the hostages] back.”

The Jerusalem protest took place outside the Prime Minister’s Office in the capital.

Pressure has intensified on the government to reach a deal with Hamas to free the remaining hostages, with regular protests drawing tens of thousands of people to the streets demanding their rescue.

Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, May 22, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Approval to keep negotiating came despite a lack of progress in recent weeks and friction between Israel and Egypt, which, along with Qatar and the US, has mediated talks.

Arabic newspaper al-Araby al-Jadeed reported Thursday that Egyptian mediators are testing the waters to see if they can restart indirect negotiations.

The report in the London-based pro-Qatari daily cited an Egyptian source close to Cairo saying that contacts are being made with “all active parties.”

According to the Egyptian source, an Israeli working delegation has visited Cairo on a weekly basis to discuss security coordination and attempt to get past an impasse over Israel’s control of the Gazan side of the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which has led to increasingly vocal mutual recriminations.

The source said discussions had lately also centered around the role of Egyptian mediation.

The Rafah Crossing is a key conduit for humanitarian aid into Gaza, but Egypt has refused to cooperate with Israeli authorities on deliveries since the Israeli army recently captured the gateway as part of its operation in the adjoining city of Rafah, a last Hamas stronghold.

Egypt threatened to pull out of its mediator role in a statement on Wednesday, alluding to anger over claims by the US and Israel that Cairo had secretly changed the terms of a potential deal Jerusalem had agreed to, scuttling the chances for a deal.

The source claimed to al-Jadeed al-Araby that leaks to the media regarding Egypt’s reported subterfuge aided attempts by Netanyahu’s government to “evade responsibility” for the fact that the sides have been unable to reach an agreement.

One hundred and twenty-four 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, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 16 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 37 of those still held by Hamas, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person has been 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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