Citing losses and destruction, Hamas figures in Gaza urge leaders to strike deal

Internal communications show senior officials in Strip wrote to group’s chiefs in Qatar urging ceasefire despite reluctance of Yahya Sinwar, who may not be aware of war’s toll

Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar in Gaza City, June 26, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)
Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar in Gaza City, June 26, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

Several senior Hamas figures in Gaza have urged the terror group’s exiled political leadership to accept the ceasefire and hostage deal proposal championed by US President Joe Biden, according to internal communications seen by The Associated Press.

The messages, shared by a Middle East official familiar with the ongoing negotiations, described the heavy losses Hamas has suffered on the battlefield and the dire conditions in the war-ravaged territory. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to share the contents of internal Hamas communications.

The official shared two internal Hamas communications, both written by senior officials inside Gaza to the group’s leadership in Qatar, where Hamas’s political leader Ismail Haniyeh is based.

The communications, from May and June, suggested that the war had taken a toll on Hamas fighters, with the senior figures urging the group’s political wing abroad to accept the deal despite the reluctance of Yahya Sinwar, the group’s leader in Gaza.

The messages suggest that Sinwar, who has been in hiding since the war erupted and is believed to be holed up in a tunnel deep underground, either isn’t fully aware of the toll of the fighting or isn’t fully communicating it to those negotiating outside of the territory.

It is not known whether Haniyeh or any other top officials in Qatar responded to the messages.

Hamas over the weekend appeared to drop its longstanding demand that Israel promise to end the war in Gaza as part of any deal, though it indicated it was still demanding guarantees to that effect from mediators.

Troops of the IDF’s Givati Brigade operate in the Yabna camp of southern Gaza’s Rafah, June 18, 2024. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that military pressure — including Israel’s ongoing two-month offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah — “is what has led Hamas to enter negotiations.”

Israeli representatives have been negotiating with Hamas through intermediaries almost since October 7, when thousands of terrorists invaded Israel from the Gaza Strip, killing some 1,200 people and taking 251 hostages, and sparking the ongoing war.

In November, Hamas released 105 civilian hostages in exchange for a one-week ceasefire and the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, but efforts to reach a second agreement have so far been fruitless.

US officials declined to comment on the communications seen by AP. But a person familiar with Western intelligence, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the group’s leadership understands its forces have suffered heavy losses, which has helped Hamas move closer to a ceasefire deal.

Two US officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Americans are aware of internal divisions within Hamas, and said that those divisions, the destruction in Gaza, or pressure from mediators Egypt and Qatar could have been factors in the terror group softening its demands.

Hamas spokesperson Jihad Taha dismissed any suggestions of divisions within the group.

“The movement’s position is unified and is crystallized through the organizational framework of the leadership,” he said.

Israeli officials also declined to comment on the communications, as did Egypt and Qatar.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Qatar-based leader of Hamas, during a visit in Tehran, May 22, 2024. (Iranian Supreme Leader’s Website / AFP)

Egypt and Qatar have been working with the United States to broker a hostage deal to end the ongoing war. After months of fits and starts, talks resumed last week and are scheduled to continue in the coming days.

Hamas and Egyptian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a phased deal would start with a six-week ceasefire during which older, sick and female hostages would be released by Hamas in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Talks on a broader deal, including an end to the war, would only begin during this phase, they said.

Several US officials said they are cautiously optimistic about the prospects for a ceasefire based on the latest developments, but stressed that numerous previous efforts had looked promising only to fall through.

It is believed that 116 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza, though many of hem are believed to be dead. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 42 of those still held by Hamas, citing 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 two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip in 2014 and 2015, as well as the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed in 2014.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 38,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though the toll cannot be verified and does not differentiate between civilians and fighters.

Israel says it has killed some 15,000 combatants in battle and some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel during the October 7 attack.

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