Blinken says truce ‘ball’ in Hamas’s court; terror group says no to compromise

Lebanese newspaper claims failure in hostage negotiations in Cairo stems from departure from Paris proposals, lack of focus on future stages of deal

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, speaks during his meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, not pictured, at the State Department in Washington, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, speaks during his meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, not pictured, at the State Department in Washington, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday it was up to Hamas to agree to a temporary ceasefire that would allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza and pave the way for talks on an “enduring resolution” to the conflict.

The Palestinian terrorist group left talks in Cairo aimed at reaching an agreement to pause fighting ahead of Ramadan, amid fears violence could escalate during the Muslim holy month.

Israel and Hamas blamed each other for the lack of agreement on a deal that would require Hamas to free some of the hostages it still holds in exchange for a 40-day truce. Some Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel would also be released.

Blinken, ahead of a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, said Washington was still pushing for a truce.

“The issue is Hamas. The issue is whether Hamas will decide or not to have a ceasefire that would benefit everyone,” Blinken said.

“The ball is in their court. We’re working intensely on it, and we’ll see what they do.”

People pass by a fence with photographs of Israelis who are being held hostage in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terrorist group, in Ramat Gan, Israel, March 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

However, Hamas’s military wing said Friday there would be no compromise on the movement’s demand that Israel end its war to destroy Hamas and completely withdraw from Gaza to secure the release of hostages seized in the October 7 attack.

“Our top priority to reach a prisoner exchange deal is the complete commitment for the halt of aggression and an enemy withdrawal, and there is no compromise on this,” Abu Obeida, spokesman for the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said in a televised statement.

The statement came as hopes dimmed for a new truce in the five-month-old war between Israel and Hamas triggered by the Palestinian terrorists’ unprecedented attack on southern Israel on October 7 in which they murdered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 253.

Israel has called Hamas’s demands “delusional” and pledged not to end the war until Hamas’s military and governing capacities are dismantled. Hamas, which seized power in Gaza from the Palestinian Authority’s main Fatah party in 2007, is avowedly committed to destroying Israel.

On Thursday, Hamas’s delegation voiced dissatisfaction with Israeli responses to its demands and left the latest round of talks in Cairo for consultations with the movement’s leadership in Qatar.

Abu Obeida on Friday also called for “our people” to mobilize and “crawl” towards the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, a flashpoint for violence during Ramadan in past years.

Quoting Palestinian sources, Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported on Friday that the failure of talks in Cairo this week was because they were no longer focused on the Paris proposal agreed upon by the US, Egypt, Qatar and Israel in February.

Protesters, waving Palestinian flags and tear gas canisters, take part in an anti-Israel demonstration near Place de la Republique in Paris, on November 11, 2023. (Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)

The outline reportedly included 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.

Al-Akhbar quoted sources as saying that the talks faltered as the conversation moved away from the second and third phases and was instead focused only on the first.

“What is proposed now does not meet the minimum demands of [Hamas] or the needs of the Gaza Strip,” a Palestinian source was quoted as saying while reiterating Hamas’s calls for a full ceasefire.

“There needs to be a commitment on the part of the United States, Egypt and Qatar, in the presence of a sustainable truce, that leads to a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.”

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.

Four hostages were released prior to that, and three were rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

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