Small Mossad team said to remain in Qatar to continue talks

Blaming UN vote, Israel pulls negotiators from Qatar after Hamas rejects truce deal

Prime Minister’s Office points to ‘damage’ caused by Security Council resolution, as Gaza terror group digs in on demands Israel calls ‘delusional’

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Mossad chief David Barnea at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on October 15, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Mossad chief David Barnea at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on October 15, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israel on Tuesday recalled its negotiating team from Qatar after Hamas rejected its latest offer in talks on a hostage deal and truce, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel.

The delegation had been in Doha for eight days.

However, several news outlets reported that a small Mossad team remained in Qatar to continue talks. The Prime Minister’s Office would not comment on the reports. Majed al-Ansari, a spokesperson for Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters that negotiations on a truce in Gaza were still ongoing, without providing details.

In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Hamas’s decision to reject a US-brokered compromise is “clear proof it is not interested in continuing talks, and a sad testament to the damage caused by the UN Security Council resolution,” referring to a call for a ceasefire passed Monday night that the US did not veto, thus enabling its passage.

The PMO accused Hamas of retreating to its “extreme demands,” including a complete end to the war and full IDF withdrawal from Gaza.

“Israel will not cave to Hamas’s delusional demands,” it said.

A diplomatic official quoted by Hebrew-language media said Hamas demanded that Gazans be given carte blanche to return to their homes in the north of the Strip and did not even address a hostage release.

“There is no one to talk to on the other side and the Israeli negotiating team has nothing to do in Qatar,” the source was quoted as saying.

Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, CIA chief Bill Burns and Egyptian intel chief Abbas Kamel. (Collage/AFP)

Hamas said on Monday night that it had informed mediators that it will stick to its original position on demanding a permanent ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, a return of displaced Palestinians, and a “real” exchange of “prisoners” — demands Israel has repeatedly rejected as delusional.

While the terror group has conditioned any further hostage releases on an Israeli commitment to end the war, Israel has insisted that its military campaign to destroy Hamas’s military and governance capabilities will resume once any hostage-truce deal is implemented.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a radio interview Tuesday morning that the US decision to withhold a veto on the Security Council resolution would hurt Israel in talks to free its hostages.

File – Palestinians crowd together as they wait for food distribution in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, November 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali, File)

Katz drew a direct line between Hamas’s rejection of Israeli terms for a truce and hostage deal in exchange for prisoners and the US decision to allow the Security Council resolution to pass, which he called “a moral and ethical mistake.”

“Hamas is building on the fact that… there will be a ceasefire without it needing to pay a thing,” he said.

Katz said Israel will now need to up the military pressure to prove its commitment to releasing the hostages and taking down Hamas.

“In our view, there was a message, a no-good message, to anyone on Hamas’s side that the US does not support Israel as much, and so we need to prove, militarily, that we will stand by our goals,” he said.

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer told Bloomberg TV on Tuesday that the US decision gave Hamas reason to believe “they’re going to get a ceasefire without giving up the hostages.”

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer arrives at an event at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Saying the war is in “the home stretch,” Dermer implored the US to “stand with us, let us finish the job, and let’s get to a day after where can have a real peace process that can give hope not only to Israelis, but also to Palestinians.”

The Security Council resolution demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the release of hostages taken by Gazan terrorists on October 7. The US abstained, and the 14 other council members voted for the resolution, backed by Russia and China, that called for a ceasefire without conditioning it on the release of hostages.

In a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office after the adoption of the resolution, Israel warned that the US decision to abstain was harming the war effort against Hamas and undermining attempts to free hostages.

The statement called the decision “a clear retreat from the consistent US position in the Security Council since the beginning of the war,” and one that “gives Hamas hope that international pressure will allow them to get a ceasefire without releasing our hostages.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States ambassador and Representative to the United Nations, speaks after a vote to abstain as the United Nations Security Council passed a ceasefire resolution in Gaza during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, its first demand to halt fighting at UN headquarters, March 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Netanyahu also canceled a planned trip to Washington by Dermer and National Security Council chief Tzachi Hanegbi to discuss plans for an offensive in the Gaza city of Rafah, a step the US viewed as an overreaction.

The White House suggested on Monday that Netanyahu was trying to manufacture a crisis in US-Israel ties after he canceled the delegation’s visit.

US officials asserted that their position in favor of conditioning a ceasefire on the release of hostages has not changed.

“It seems like the Prime Minister’s Office is choosing to create a perception of daylight here when they don’t need to do that,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in a press briefing.

Some 130 hostages — not all of them alive — are believed to remain in Gaza since Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw terrorists kill some 1,200 people and abduct another 253, mostly civilians. Dozens of hostages were released under a previous truce deal in November, and some others were freed by Israel.

Egypt and Qatar had been trying to narrow differences between Israel and Hamas over what a ceasefire should look like as a deepening humanitarian crisis has the population in Gaza at risk of famine, according to the United Nations.

Reports circulating in Hebrew media on Sunday indicated Jerusalem had softened its position and could be willing to release hundreds more Palestinian prisoners than initially agreed to in the first phase of a potential accord.

“Right now, we’re feeling 50/50 about the chances for a deal,” an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Sunday.

Israel had accepted a recent US compromise proposal, which has since been sent to Hamas, a second Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Sunday. The official did not say what the proposal entailed, but reports suggested Israel was willing to nearly double the number of security inmates it had already to release in exchange for 40 hostages — women, children, the sick and elderly — in the first phase of a 6-week truce deal.

According to a report by Channel 12 news, Israel is now willing to release as many as 800 prisoners, including 100 inmates convicted of murder. Other Hebrew media reports suggested Israel was prepared to release 700 security prisoners in return for the 40.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report. 

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