US: Both sides making comments that don't reflect state of talks

Hamas accuses Netanyahu of placing ‘obstacles’ to truce-hostage negotiations

Haniyeh says IDF’s Gaza City op could undo progress in talks; Gallant tells hostages’ families Israel must ‘push forward with a deal and not miss it’; Biden hosts American hostage freed in November

A boy pushes a wheelchair carrying water containers past the rubble of destroyed buildings along a street in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on July 8, 2024. (Bashar Taleb/AFP)
A boy pushes a wheelchair carrying water containers past the rubble of destroyed buildings along a street in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on July 8, 2024. (Bashar Taleb/AFP)

Hamas on Monday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of putting hurdles in front of ceasefire negotiations, with talks aimed at reaching a truce-hostage release deal set to renew this week.

In a statement, the terror group claimed that it was offering “flexibility and positivity” in the talks, while Netanyahu “is placing additional obstacles in the way of the negotiations.” The statement appealed to mediators to interfere against what it called “maneuvers and crimes” by the prime minister, accusing him of waging “psychological warfare.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu’s office issued a statement laying out his four non-negotiable demands, including one pledging not to accept any ceasefire deal that does not allow Israel to resume fighting once it begins to be implemented.

The statement sparked a litany of criticism from those involved in the negotiations, including Israeli security officials.

Following up on Hamas’s statement, Ismail Haniyeh, the terror group’s Qatar-based chief, pointed to reports of intensifying IDF activity in Gaza City as having the potential to sabotage the barely restarted talks.

A statement on the Hamas Telegram channel Monday evening said that Haniyeh had told mediators during a call that he held Netanyahu and the Israeli army fully responsible for the potential collapse of negotiations and that an escalation in fighting could push things back to “point zero.”

Mothers of hostages held by terrorists in Gaza protest for their release outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 8, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Later Monday, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby sought to equivocate, telling reporters that “On both sides, you see public comments that aren’t necessarily fully reflective of the conversations that we’re having privately with them or their interlocutors.”

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller also tried to diminish the significance of the recent public comments by Israel and Hamas leaders.

“Sometimes, [you’ve] seen the Israeli government make public statements. Sometimes you’ve seen Hamas make public statements. We’re going to hold the negotiations in private. What has not changed is that Israel, in its conversations with us, is saying that it is committed to the proposal that the president publicly outlined,” Miller said, referring to the Israeli offer that envisions a temporary ceasefire, which mediators hope can be turned into a permanent one.

“We do not believe that [Israel’s] substantive position [in favor of the deal on the table] has changed,” Miller added.

Also on Monday afternoon, Biden met at the White House with Liat Beinin Atzili, an Israeli-American who was released as part of the hostage agreement Washington helped broker in late November.

US President Joe Biden meets with freed hostage Liat Atzili at the White House on July 8, 2024. (White House/X)

Atzili was joined by members of her family, and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also sat in on the meeting, the White House said.

Biden later tweeted, “Liat Beinin Atzili is a survivor.”

“It was my honor to welcome her to the White House this evening, hear firsthand about her resilience despite enduring the unthinkable, and promise her that my work isn’t done until we secure the release of all remaining hostages held by Hamas,” he added.

Separately on Monday, officials from Israel, Egypt and the US met in Cairo to discuss both the hostage talks along with efforts to reopen the Rafah Crossing and prevent weapon smuggling across the Egypt-Gaza border. The US team was led by White House Middle East czar Brett McGurk and CIA director Bill Burns, while Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar was leading the Israeli delegation and intel chief Abbas Kamel headed the Egyptian team.

In April, US officials told The Times of Israel that the US and Egypt were in talks to build an underground wall along the Philadelphi Corridor between Egypt and Gaza that would thwart Hamas smuggling from the Sinai Peninsula. Miller was asked about reports from earlier Monday recirculating that idea but declined to confirm them.

“We do believe that smuggling across the border from Egypt into Gaza is a very real problem that needs to be addressed. It’s one of the ways that Hamas was able to arm and fund itself, and that presented a legitimate security challenge to the government of Israel and also made it difficult to ever achieve peace for the Palestinian people,” Miller said. “We have been working on proposals with the governments of Egypt and Israel on how you can address that challenge.”

Netanyahu’s Sunday statement also included an avowal that “weapons smuggling to Hamas from the Gaza-Egypt border will not be possible,” a point aimed squarely at the talks over the future control of the shuttered Rafah Crossing.

Later this week, Mossad chief David Barnea is expected to head to Doha for continued talks on a possible truce-hostage release deal, which have ramped up after Hamas issued a response last week to the latest framework for an agreement.

According to a report in the Associated Press on Monday, several officials in the Middle East and the US believe the level of devastation in the Gaza Strip caused by nine months of fighting helped push Hamas to soften its demands for a ceasefire agreement.

In recent internal communications seen by the AP, messages signed by several senior Hamas figures in Gaza urged the group’s exiled political leadership to accept the ceasefire proposal put forward by US President Joe Biden in a speech at the end of May.

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.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant met on Monday with the family members of those Israelis still being held hostage in Gaza, telling them that Israel needs to translate the gains of its military pressure into a deal to bring the captives home.

“The entire defense establishment sees the return of the hostages as the main goal to be pursued, to do everything we can to take advantage of the situation that has been created,” Gallant said, according to a statement from his office.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets with family members of the hostages on July 8, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)

“The military pressure has created conditions that allow us to move forward with a deal, the military will know how to halt and how to return to combat as needed,” the defense minister added. “We need to take advantage of the military pressure to push forward with a deal and not to miss it.”

The Israeli-drafted outline for a hostage deal and truce in Gaza that Biden presented at the end of May proposed a phased deal that would include a “full and complete” six-week ceasefire that would see the release of a number of hostages, including women, the elderly, and the wounded, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners.

During these 42 days, Israeli forces would also withdraw from densely populated areas of Gaza and allow the return of displaced people to their homes in northern Gaza.

Over that period, Hamas, Israel, and mediators would also negotiate the terms of the second phase that could see the release of the remaining male hostages, both civilians and soldiers, in return, Israel would free additional Palestinian security prisoners and detainees. The third phase would see the return of any remaining hostages, including bodies of dead captives, and the start of a years-long reconstruction project.

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