Biden ‘hoping’ for hostage, temporary truce deal by Ramadan but ‘we may not get there’

US president says teams working ‘real hard’ to try and hammer out an agreement before Muslim holy month begins, just over a week from now

US President Joe Biden walks towards members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, March 1, 2024, to travel to Camp David, Maryland., for the weekend. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
US President Joe Biden walks towards members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, March 1, 2024, to travel to Camp David, Maryland., for the weekend. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

US President Joe Biden said Friday he was “hoping” for a deal by the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that could bring a pause to the war between Israel and Hamas and see the release of hostages taken from Israel during the October 7 Hamas massacre, but acknowledged that the agreement was elusive for now.

“I’m hoping so, we’re still working real hard on it. We’re not there yet,” he told reporters at the White House when asked if he expected a deal by Ramadan, which will start on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.

“We’ll get there but we’re not there yet — we may not get there,” Biden added, without elaborating, as he headed to his helicopter to spend the weekend at the presidential Camp David retreat.

Biden had said at the beginning of this week that he expected a deal by Monday for a six-week halt in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, but has steadily walked back the timeline as mediators, including the US, Egypt, and Qatar, continue with efforts to ink an agreement.

Israel and Hamas, which both had delegations in Qatar this week to hammer out details of a potential 40-day truce, have said there is still a big gulf between them, and the Qatari mediators say there is no breakthrough yet.

According to an Axios report Friday, Israel has indicated that it will not participate in further talks until it receives a list of living hostages still held by Hamas.

Families of those held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza march toward Jerusalem from the city of Beit Shemesh, March 1, 2024 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

According to the Axios report, Qatar and Egypt, who mediate between Israel and Hamas, had coaxed Israel to take part in talks over the past week in Doha by guaranteeing that if an Israeli delegation were sent, Egypt and Qatar would secure a list of living hostages, and pressure Hamas to come down from its demands regarding the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released in return for each Israeli hostage.

But after three days of talks in Doha, the Israeli delegation returned home without any answers on either issue. “The mediators promised that Hamas would give numbers and that didn’t happen,” Axios quoted an unnamed Israeli official as saying.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday evening expressed pessimism that a deal could be sealed, accusing Hamas of continuing to stonewall Israel rather than make a good faith effort at compromise.

“We face a brick wall of delusional, unrealistic Hamas demands,” said Netanyahu in a press conference at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, adding that the terrorist group “knows its demands are delusional and is not even trying to move close to an area of agreement. That’s the situation.”

“We are all hopeful, but I’m giving you the current assessment… We continue to act, continue to hope, but I can’t make a promise at this moment” that a deal will be done, he said, because such a promise would “have no cover.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv on February 29, 2024. (Nimrod Klikman/POOL via Flash90)

On Thursday, Qatari and Egyptian officials proposed another round of talks in Cairo to take place over the coming week, but Israel refused the offer due to the mediators’ failure to receive from Hamas the promised list of hostages, according to the Axios report.

“There is no point in starting another round of talks until we receive the lists of which of the hostages are alive and until Hamas gives its answer regarding the ‘ratio’ that defines how many prisoners will be released for each hostage,” the official said.

The Ynet news site reported Friday that in a security cabinet briefing on the prisoner swap negotiations Thursday night, those present were informed that Hamas was doubling down on its demands.

Other Hebrew-language media reports also indicated that the Palestinian terror group had adopted an increasingly intransigent stance in the negotiations.

Israel, meanwhile, was reported by Channel 12 to have given the Egyptian government a list of security prisoners that it would not release even if a deal is reached with Hamas. According to the report, the Israeli delegation will participate in the Cairo talks next week.

According to an unsourced report by Channel 12 news earlier this week, some officials have accused Netanyahu of trying to torpedo the nascent hostage deal in order to appease the far-right elements of his government.

A woman holds a mask depicting the faces of Shiri Bibas and her sons Kfir and Ariel, Israelis who are being held hostage in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terror group, during a protest demanding the release of the hostages from Hamas captivity, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, February 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Over 250 hostages were taken during Hamas’s brutal October 7 onslaught, which saw thousands of gunmen led by the Palestinian terror group storm southern Israel to kill nearly 1,200 people, mainly civilians.

It is believed that 130 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 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 31 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. 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.

Vowing to dismantle Hamas and release the hostages, Israel launched an air and ground campaign.

Palestinians gather in a street as humanitarian aid is airdropped in Gaza City on March 1, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas terror group. (AFP)

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says that more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed so far. The figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

Amid the spiraling humanitarian crisis in the Strip, Biden announced earlier Friday that the United States would soon start airdropping aid to Gaza, a day after dozens of desperate Palestinians were killed rushing an aid convoy.

Biden has said the incident could complicate talks, but would not comment Friday on what was holding up a deal, adding: “I’m not going to tell you that because that’ll get involved in the negotiations.”

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