Hamas appears to reject deal as mediators said pursuing days-long pause to build trust

Claiming it’s being flexible to achieve a ‘comprehensive cessation of aggression against our people,’ terror group nevertheless warns it won’t negotiate ‘indefinitely’

Protesters call for the release of hostages held by terrorists in Gaza, outside the US Embassy Branch Office in Tel Aviv, March 5, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Protesters call for the release of hostages held by terrorists in Gaza, outside the US Embassy Branch Office in Tel Aviv, March 5, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Hamas terror group appeared on Wednesday to reject the latest Israeli offer for a temporary ceasefire that will include a hostage deal and the freeing of Palestinian prisoners, as mediators reportedly began a push for a short-term pause in fighting for a few days to build trust between the sides.

In a statement to the press, Hamas said Israel has refused to meet the group’s demands for a permanent ceasefire, the withdrawal of troops from the Gaza Strip, the return of displaced Gazans to their homes in the north and “provisions for the needs of our people.”

Despite laying out what appear to be many of its original demands, the terror group claimed it showed the “required flexibility” in talks.

“The Hamas movement has shown the required flexibility with the aim of reaching an agreement requiring a comprehensive cessation of aggression against our people,” the terror group said in a statement.

“The movement will continue to negotiate through mediator brothers to reach an agreement that fulfils the demands and interests of our people,” Hamas said.

However, Osama Hamdan, a Hamas official in Beirut, warned the terror group would “not allow the path of negotiations to be open indefinitely.”

Pictures of hostages held by terror groups in Gaza since October 7, in Tel Aviv, February 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Negotiators from Egypt, Qatar and the US were heading into a fourth day of talks on Wednesday as they raced to secure an agreement before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins early next week.

Mediators have now proposed a short-term truce lasting only a few days to buy time and build trust between Israel and Hamas, as efforts for a more comprehensive six-week pause in fighting flounder, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The idea is being pushed by both the US and Arab parties to the talks in Cairo, the newspaper said.

However, Israeli officials are reportedly increasingly pessimistic over the likelihood of reaching a hostage and truce deal before Ramadan.

According to similar comments from unnamed officials cited in several Hebrew media reports — generally indicating a coordinated leak — Israel believes that rather than wanting to secure a temporary ceasefire in the coming days, Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar instead wants to escalate the violence further over Ramadan.

Yahya Sinwar (C), Hamas’s Gaza Strip chief, waves to supporters in Gaza City, on April 14, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Negotiations continued in Cairo on Tuesday, though no Israeli team was present after Hamas refused Jerusalem’s demand to present a list of the living hostages.

Hamas has said it doesn’t know where all the hostages are, but the US has dismissed the claim, saying the list was “very much a legitimate request” from Israel.

Channel 12 reported Tuesday that Hamas has recently been “mapping out” where Israeli hostages are being held. The unsourced TV report said Israel was therefore giving “a final opportunity” for the negotiations to bear fruit.

Two Egyptian officials said Tuesday that Hamas presented a proposal that mediators would discuss with Israel in the coming days. One of the officials said that mediators would meet Wednesday with the Hamas delegation, which is still in Cairo.

US President Joe Biden said Tuesday that “we’ll know in a couple days” whether Hamas agrees to the proposed hostage deal currently on the table.

In recent days, US officials have reiterated that a six-week ceasefire has been crafted to allow for the staged release of the hostages and the flow of aid into Gaza, saying Israel has been a constructive player in the talks while Hamas has held them up.

“The hostage deal is in the hands of Hamas right now… There’s been a rational offer. The Israelis have agreed to it… We’ll know in a couple days if it’s going to happen,” Biden told reporters before boarding Air Force One in Maryland on Tuesday.

“There’s got to be a ceasefire because [if] we get into a circumstance where this continues through Ramadan… Israel and Jerusalem… it could be very, very dangerous,” Biden added.

Biden also reiterated that he was pressing “very hard” for Israel to allow more aid into Gaza. “There’s no excuses. None.”

US President Joe Biden arrives to board Air Force One, March 5, 2024, in Hagerstown, Maryland. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Meanwhile, the US on Tuesday revised language in a draft UN Security Council resolution to back “an immediate ceasefire of roughly six-weeks in Gaza together with the release of all hostages,” according to the text seen by Reuters.

The third revision of the text – first proposed by the United States two weeks ago – now reflects blunt remarks made by US Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday calling on Israel to do more to ease the “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.

The initial US draft had shown support for “a temporary ceasefire” in the Israel-Hamas war. The Biden administration has refrained from calling for a permanent ceasefire, noting that leaving Hamas intact would allow it to continue threatening Israel, even as Washington has stepped up rhetoric critical of Israel’s war effort over the humanitarian toll.

Displaced Palestinians carry their belongings walk past Israeli forces as they flee the Hamad City area in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 5, 2024. (AFP)

The war in Gaza was sparked by the devastating assault by Hamas on October 7, when thousands of terrorists invaded southern Israel, killed nearly 1,200 people, and took 253 hostages, while committing numerous atrocities.

Israel has said it believes 130 hostages taken that day remain in Gaza, but that 31 of them are dead, after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

Vowing to dismantle the Palestinian terror group, Israel launched an unprecedented ground and air campaign in the Gaza Strip, which has seen about half the Strip’s residences destroyed, displacing over a million people, many of whom face the risk of starvation, according to UN agencies.

Israel’s offensive aimed at destroying Hamas has killed 30,717 people, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza. That figure cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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