Qatar: 'More optimistic today than several days ago'

Gallant: Israel at an opportune moment for hostage deal, facing difficult decisions

Defense minister stresses ‘other side must agree’ to deal, vows ‘we’ll return to the fighting’ after a truce; Israeli, Hamas officials pour cold water on Egypt’s optimism

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to soldiers drafting into the IDF's Armored and Combat Engineering Corps at the Tel Hashomer military base, central Israel, April 8, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to soldiers drafting into the IDF's Armored and Combat Engineering Corps at the Tel Hashomer military base, central Israel, April 8, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Monday he believes Israel has reached an “opportune moment” to bring about the release of hostages held in Gaza, but that such a move will require “difficult decisions.”

Speaking to new soldiers being drafted to the Israel Defense Forces Armored and Combat Engineering Corps, Gallant said, “We have the utmost obligation to bring our captives back home.”

The months of war in Gaza and Israel’s military achievements “enable us to be flexible, to act freely, and to make difficult decisions to bring back the abductees. I believe we are at an opportune moment, but there’s another side that must agree to it,” he told the recruits at Tel Hashomer military base in central Israel.

The defense minister’s comments on the potential for a deal to free hostages came as Israeli and Hamas officials on Monday downplayed reports that an arrangement could be reached as early as this week.

Israel will likely be required to release a large number of Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for hostages held in Gaza. Hamas has also conditioned any hostage release on a full ceasefire and withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, along with the return of displaced Palestinians to their homes and an increase in humanitarian aid.

Ministers and other Israeli officials familiar with the details of the talks told Channel 12 on Saturday that the main sticking point in the talks was the question of the return of Palestinians to the northern Gaza Strip.

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

After a truce, Gallant said, “we will return to the fighting, and do everything we must.”

Gallant listed the military’s achievements, stating that “the IDF eliminated four out of five of Hamas’s brigades” — north Gaza, Gaza City, Khan Younis and two of the four battalions of the Central Camps — and that “we are preparing for the continuation” of the operation.

Referring to the withdrawal of all but one of the IDF brigades in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, he said, “We withdrew forces, we are preparing and we will arrive in Rafah in order to crush the military forces there.”

Hebrew media outlets reported Monday that the cabinet was set to meet at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, most likely to discuss developments in the negotiations for a deal.

Two Egyptian security sources and Al-Qahera News said progress had been made in the Cairo talks.

The security sources said both sides had made concessions that could help pave the way for a deal for a truce, which — as proposed during previous talks — would be staggered over three stages.

The concessions relate to the freeing of hostages and Hamas’s demand for the return of displaced residents to northern Gaza, they said. Mediators suggested the return could be monitored by an Arab force in the presence of Israeli security deployments that would later be pulled back, they added.

Delegations left Cairo and consultations were expected to continue within 48 hours, the sources and Al-Qahera said

Egypt, Qatar, and key Israeli ally the United States have mediated previous rounds of negotiations, but a deal has remained elusive.

Israelis walk past candles and photographs of the victims killed and held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza since the October 7 massacre, at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv. April 8, 2024. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

An Israeli official downplayed the optimism earlier Sunday, telling the Ynet news site: “We still don’t see a deal on the horizon.”

“The distance [between the sides] is still great and there has been nothing dramatic so far,” he added.

A Palestinian official close to mediation efforts told Reuters that the deadlock was due to Israel’s refusal to end the war, withdraw its forces from Gaza, allow all civilians to return to their homes, and lift a 17-year-old blockade to allow speedy reconstruction of the coastal enclave.

These steps took precedence over Israel’s prime demand for a release of hostages in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Regarding the exchange of prisoners, Hamas was and is willing to be more flexible, but there is no flexibility over our… main demands,” he told Reuters.

Israel has declared that the war will not end until it dismantles the Hamas regime as a governing and military force in Gaza, and secures the release of all the hostages held by terror groups.

Meanwhile, mediator Qatar is “more optimistic” that a deal will come to fruition than it has been in recent days, the spokesman for Qatar’s Foreign Minister Majed Mohammed al-Ansari told the BBC Monday.

“If you ask me if I’m more optimistic today than I was a couple of days ago, I would say, yes,” he said. According to al-Ansari, several new proposals are being closely examined by both Israel and Hamas, including one drafted by a US delegation to the talks.

He did not offer any details about the content of the various proposals being examined, but said he hoped the first phase of a three-part ceasefire plan could enter into effect “soon.”

Israel’s delegation was led by David Barnea, head of the Mossad, and Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar. The Hamas delegation was led by Khalil Al-Hayya, the terror group’s deputy chief in Gaza.

Hamas and other terror groups are still holding 129 of the 253 hostages seized on October 7, during a shock onslaught on southern Israel that killed nearly 1,200 people. Hamas has also been holding, for nearly a decade, two Israeli civilians and the remains of two soldiers.

The fighting has effected a humanitarian crisis in the enclave, half of whose population has been displaced over the past six months.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 33,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas gunmen Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Israel has lost 260 soldiers in its ground offensive in Gaza.

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