Doubling down, Hamas insists hostage deal dependent on Israel ending war

Terror group official says talks won’t succeed without IDF leaving Gaza, after meeting between US, Qatari, Egyptian and Israeli officials hailed by PM’s office as ‘constructive’

People attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas terrorists to Gaza at "Hostage Square" in Tel Aviv, January 27, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
People attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas terrorists to Gaza at "Hostage Square" in Tel Aviv, January 27, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Hamas said on Monday that releasing hostages it is holding would require a guaranteed end to the Israeli offensive in Gaza and withdrawal of all invasion forces, reiterating its position after Israel held a meeting with Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

“The success of the Paris meeting is dependent on the Occupation (Israel) agreeing to end the comprehensive aggression on Gaza Strip,” senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

It was not immediately clear if, with this condition met, Hamas would free all or some of the 132 hostages who remain in Gaza after being abducted on October 7. Hamas had previously said a full release would require that Israel free all of the thousands of Palestinians held on security grounds in its prisons.

A Palestinian official close to mediation talks who requested anonymity, said that for Hamas to sign a follow-up deal to the November truce in which it released 105 hostages, it wants Israel to agree to end the offensive and withdraw from Gaza, although implementation would not necessarily be immediate.

The agreement would have to be endorsed by Qatar, Egypt, and the United States, the official said.

CIA Director Bill Burns discussed the contours of an emerging agreement for a two-month ceasefire in France on Sunday with David Barnea, the head of the Mossad intelligence agency; Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani; and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.

A composite image of CIA Director William Burns, left, speaking at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, on July 8, 2022; Mossad Director David Barnea, right, speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv, on September 10, 2023. (AP/Susan Walsh; Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel also sent Ronen Bar, the head of the Shin Ben security service, and IDF hostage envoy Nitzan Alon to the summit.

The Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office called the discussions in Paris “constructive.”

“There are still significant gaps that the sides will discuss this week in additional meetings,” it added in a statement.

Two senior US officials had told The Associated Press on Saturday that American negotiators were making progress on an agreement. The officials, who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations, told the AP that emerging terms of the yet-to-be-sealed deal would play out over two phases. The New York Times also reported on Saturday that progress had been made.

In the first phase, the AP reported, fighting would stop to allow for the remaining women, elderly and wounded hostages to be released by Hamas, in exchange for the release of large numbers of Palestinian security prisoners.

Israel and Hamas would then aim to work out details during the first 30 days of the pause for a second phase in which Israeli soldiers and civilian men would be released, in exchange for far larger numbers of Palestinian security prisoners.

The emerging deal also calls for Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

While the proposed deal would not end the war, US officials are hopeful that such an agreement could lay the groundwork for a durable resolution to the conflict.

Israeli officials, cited by Channel 12, have played down expectations, saying that Hamas is stubbornly clinging to demands that Israel completely end the war while leaving the terror group in power over Gaza.

Burns was in France for the high-level negotiations after White House senior adviser Brett McGurk traveled to the Mideast last week for talks on the hostage situation.

File: US National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk speaks during the IISS Manama Dialogue security conference, in Manama on November 18, 2023. (Mazen Mahdi / AFP)

If Burns sees progress in his talks in France, Biden may dispatch McGurk back to the Mideast quickly to try to complete an agreement.

The war erupted on October 7 when Hamas-led terrorists from the Gaza Strip carried out a massive attack on attack on Israel that killed some 1,200 people in the south of the country, most of them civilians. Marauding terrorists massacred people, gang-raped women and tortured and mutilated their victims in border communities and at an outdoor music festival. Hamas and other terrorists also abducted 253 people of all ages, mostly civilians, as hostages in Gaza.

Israel responded with a military campaign, including a ground offensive, to destroy Hamas, remove it from power in Gaza and release the hostages. Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed to continue the offensive until complete victory over Hamas is achieved.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 28 of those still held by Hamas, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

Four hostages were released prior to the November deal, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three who were mistakenly killed by the military.

Hamas has also been 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.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report

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