Gallant: Talks will take place ‘under fire’; Haniyeh: No hostages without end to war

After seeing CIA director, Qatar PM and Egypt intel chief meet Hamas delegation in Doha, press terror chiefs to accept Israeli offer, with expectation it will give a conditional OK

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right) is seen boarding a two-seater F-15 fighter jet at the Tel Nof Airbase in central Israel, June 5, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right) is seen boarding a two-seater F-15 fighter jet at the Tel Nof Airbase in central Israel, June 5, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Hostage negotiations with Hamas will “only be conducted under fire,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Wednesday during a flight over the Gaza Strip and the Lebanon border, rejecting the Palestinian terror group’s repeated stance that it won’t negotiate while fighting is ongoing.

“The strikes and the plumes of smoke where the Israel Defense Forces attacks are clearly visible to the eye, both in the Gaza Strip and in the north,” Gallant said aboard an F-15 jet of the Israeli Air Force’s 133rd Squadron.

“We are in a process where we will continue to wear down the enemy. Any negotiations with the Hamas terror organization will only be conducted under fire,” he asserted.

Meanwhile, Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a Wednesday statement that the terror group would deal “seriously and positively” with any ceasefire agreement that is based on a total halt of war and the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted that he will not accept any hostage deal that prevents Israel from completing its war aim of eliminating Hamas, which orchestrated the October 7 onslaught that killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 251.

His war cabinet has signed off on a hostage deal proposal that would bring about an end to the war if fully implemented, though the premier contends that it would allow Israel to fulfill its war aims before that.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Doha-based political bureau chief of Hamas, speaks to the press after a meeting with the Iranian foreign minister in Tehran on March 26, 2024. (AFP)

Seeking to break a prolonged deadlock in negotiations, US President Joe Biden went public last week with some of the details of that Israeli proposal — a move that could shake up Netanyahu’s coalition, given that its far-right parties have vowed to bring down the government if the deal, as presented by Biden, is accepted.

The US has simultaneously placed the ball in Hamas’s court, by repeatedly highlighting that the Israeli offer is nearly identical to the last proposal made by the terror group.

However, the impasse remains Israel’s insistence on continuing the war until Hamas’s defeat and the terror group’s refusal to release the remaining hostages unless Jerusalem commits to a permanent ceasefire up front.

The Israeli negotiating team led by Mossad chief David Barnea — which is given its mandate by Netanyahu but has repeatedly sought to widen its room for maneuver in order to secure a deal — added a new clause to its latest proposal submitted last week that aims to overcome this deadlock.

The offer envisions a six-week truce in its first phase during which the remaining living female, elderly and sick hostages will be released. Also during this first phase, the parties are to hold talks on a permanent ceasefire. The added clause specifies that the phase one ceasefire can extend beyond the initially allotted six weeks if the negotiations for a permanent ceasefire are still taking place in good faith.

The clause was kept vague in a manner that mediators hoped would satisfy both sides enough to at least get them to agree to phase one of the deal.

But Netanyahu’s insistence earlier this week that Israel would not stop the war until Hamas is defeated — in response to the outcry from his far-right allies — has led Hamas to demand additional clarifications and assurances from the mediators that has harmed efforts to secure a deal, a senior Israeli official said.

CIA chief William Burns, Egyptian intel chief Abbas Kamel, Mossad chief David Barnea and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani. (Collage/AP/AFP)

Nonetheless, the US is throwing its weight behind this Israeli proposal, dispatching CIA chief William Burns and White House Middle East czar Brett McGurk to the region to try and see the deal through.

Burns met Wednesday with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel in Doha. The latter pair of mediators subsequently met with a Hamas delegation to further lean on the terror group to accept the Israeli proposal, an official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.

Meanwhile, McGurk was in Cairo for additional meetings with Egyptian officials with the same goal on the agenda. Qatar and Egypt have been charged with bringing Hamas to the negotiating table, with Doha able to influence Hamas’s foreign leaders whom it hosts while Egypt enjoys sway with Hamas’s Gaza leadership due to their shared border.

The official familiar said the mediators expect that Hamas will accept the Israeli proposal while setting out a series of reservations that will further drag out the talks.

Israel’s war cabinet met on Wednesday night and discussed the deal further, but decided to hold off on sending its negotiating team to Doha until Hamas provides its response to the proposal, which it received last Thursday, an Israeli official said.

It is believed that 120 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 41 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

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