'Expectations should be lowered,' Israeli official says

Cabinet meets on potential hostage deal, but Hamas still seen demanding end to war

Latest US proposal said to see 900 Palestinian security prisoners freed for 40 hostages; TV report cites ‘cardinal’ differences between the sides; Blinken: Ball is in Hamas court

Families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip and their supporters call for a deal to release the captives, outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, April 9, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip and their supporters call for a deal to release the captives, outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, April 9, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The war cabinet met Tuesday to study proposals for a hostage deal in the ongoing talks in Cairo, as reports on the details of an American proposal emerged for a truce in exchange for the release of hostages held in Gaza.

The meeting of the three-member panel — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz — and observers was followed by a summit of the larger security cabinet at 7 p.m., an Israeli official told The Times of Israel.

A proposal by CIA Director William Burns, who has helped mediate the talks, would see Hamas release 40 hostages, over the course of a six-week truce, with Israel freeing 900 Palestinian security prisoners, 100 of whom are serving life sentences, Israeli officials told the Walla news site.

The report noted that the proposed deal offers 200 more Palestinian prisoners than the previously reported draft on the table, but the same number of those serving life.

The officials told the site that Israel was seeking to deport released prisoners overseas instead of allowing them into the West Bank or Gaza, and was demanding a veto on the specific prisoners released.

Other media outlets also reported Tuesday evening that the proposed deal would see the release of 40 hostages — children, women, the elderly and ill —  in the first stage of a 42-day-long truce.

Injured men walk with crutches past children sitting atop the rubble of a collapsed building along a street in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 9, 2024. (AFP)

However, according to Channel 12 news, “cardinal” differences remained over the deal. Most critically, Hamas continues to publicly insist on an Israeli commitment to end the war as a condition for hostage releases, a demand Israel has consistently dismissed.

Senior Israeli officials were quoted by Channel 12 news Tuesday as saying that Hamas was not interested in reaching an agreement.

“Even though there’s not been a negative response, expectations should be lowered; Sinwar consistently drags his feet and opposes the deal,” an official told the network, referring to Hamas’s leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar.

If Hamas were to agree to a deal, a majority in the Israeli cabinet would likely approve it, Channel 12 news indicated, despite threats to withdraw support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by far-right members of the government who fear an end of the war on the horizon.

Channel 12 also reported Tuesday that Israel is insisting on 40 hostages being released amid Hamas claims it would not be able to free 40 living hostages who are women, children, older men or sick — meeting the so-called “humanitarian” designation of the first potential phase of a deal. The report noted that Hamas made the same claim during talks that produced a November weeklong truce that included the release of 105 hostages.

The Kan public broadcaster reported the subject is a serious obstacle to a deal since Hamas is opposed to the idea that it would have to make up the remaining numbers with men under 50 or soldiers.

The latest American proposal does not place a cap on the number of Palestinians allowed to return to the north, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. A previous Israeli offer included allowing 60,000 to return north, the report said.

Citing two sources with knowledge of the content of the outline, Kan reported a proposal that Egyptian inspectors would take the role of Israeli troops inspecting Gazans returning to the north, while IDF soldiers would remain in the Strip purely for security.

Israel has sought to limit the number of Gazan men allowed to return to the north over concerns that Hamas members could slip through and re-establish control, rolling back Israeli military gains that have sought to oust the terror group from its power base.

Over a million Gazans are thought to have fled from the north in the first months of the fighting, which had concentrated on Gaza City and its environs. Many of them are now in the far southern city of Rafah, which Israel says it must conquer next to complete its goal of eliminating the terror group.

Hamas has demanded Gazans be allowed unfettered access to the north as part of any hostage deal, along with an end to the fighting and a total withdrawal of troops.

Israeli soldiers seen on the border with the Gaza Strip on April 7, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Previous reports have noted the issue of a return north as one of several major sticking points in talks taking place in Cairo.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that Hamas was presented with a “very serious offer” for a truce and hostage deal that “should be accepted.”

“Hamas could end all of this immediately and get a ceasefire that would benefit the people of Gaza and get the hostages homes. The fact that it continues to not say ‘yes’ is a reflection of what it really thinks about the people of Gaza, which is not much at all,” Blinken said at a Washington press conference with UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron.

Hamas “has an opportunity now to agree to the proposal on a ceasefire and hostages. The ball is in Hamas’s court. The world is watching to see what it does,” Blinken said.

“So much of the understandable outrage and anger is directed at Israel for the plight of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, but some of that might also need to be directed at Hamas. It is astounding to me that the world is almost deafeningly silent when it comes to Hamas.”

“We wouldn’t be where we are today had Hamas not chosen to engage in one of the most horrific acts of terrorism on October 7, and had they, having done that, not refused this many months to stop hiding behind civilians, put down their arms, release hostages and surrender. Where is the outrage there?”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron hold a joint press conference at the State Department in Washington, DC, on April 9, 2024. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

Asked whether he agrees with the assessment made by Israeli-American hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin’s mother Rachel that the brokers have thus far failed, Blinken said, “Until the day that Hersh is home, we will have not succeeded.”

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said he spoke Tuesday morning with Qatar’s prime minister and urged him to secure an answer from Hamas to the latest hostage deal offer that was put forward over the weekend.

It is believed that 129 hostages are still held in Gaza of the 253 abducted on October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and committing wholesale atrocities, including sexual assault.

A total of 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 12 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the Israeli military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 34 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.

As the war cabinet sat down to discuss the deal, dozens of protesters, including relatives of captives held in Gaza, gathered in Yigal Shiloh Square in Jerusalem in hopes of putting pressure on Israel’s security cabinet to reach a deal that frees the hostages.

Families of hostages called on members of the cabinet to “look them in the eyes” before making a decision, according to a statement from the Hostages and Missing Families Forum.

“The cabinet is responsible for the lives of the hostages,” they chanted. “Time is running out, bring everyone back, now!”

Families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip and their supporters call for a deal to release the captives, outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, April 9, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Demonstrators also briefly blocked Ruppin Road outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, where the meetings were taking place, as they called on the government to approve a deal

“We learned that the prime minister [might be] delaying many chances to get a deal signed,” said protester Gil Dickmann, whose cousin Carmel Gat is held captive in Gaza. “Right now, we hear that there is a deal on the table.”

“We must make sure that we don’t lose this chance, or else we might get a ceasefire… without the return of the hostages. That’s our biggest fear right now.”

The group moved off the road and back onto sidewalks after a short while in response to police orders.

A small number of counter-protesters were situated nearby, calling on leaders not to “bend to Hamas.”

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