PM's office: Hamas offer far from our essential requirements

Hamas claims to accept ceasefire, hostage deal; Israel: This isn’t what we agreed to

Gazans celebrate in streets; families of hostages plead for deal; US studying response; war cabinet says negotiators will meet mediators, but orders IDF to push ahead with Rafah op

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)
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)

Hamas on Monday evening claimed to accept what it said was an Egyptian and Qatari ceasefire and hostage release proposal, but Israeli officials said the Hamas terms did not meet Israel’s essential requirements.

“After Hamas agreed to the mediators’ proposal for a ceasefire, the ball is now in the court of Israeli occupation, whether it will agree to the ceasefire agreement or obstruct it,” a senior Hamas official told AFP, soon after the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh announced its acceptance.

But after receiving the Hamas response, Israeli officials said the terms Hamas claimed to have accepted did not match those that Israel had approved.

Later Monday, the Prime Minister’s Office said the war cabinet had decided unanimously to push ahead with an IDF operation in Rafah “in order to apply military pressure on Hamas, with the goal of making progress on freeing the hostages and the other war aims.”

The statement said Hamas’s latest offer was “far from [meeting] Israel’s essential requirements.” At the same time, the statement said, Israel would send working-level teams to hold talks with the mediators in order “to exhaust any possibility of achieving an agreement on terms that are acceptable to Israel.”

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz, a political rival of Netanyahu, also said the ceasefire proposal Hamas accepted “is inconsistent with the dialogue [Israel] held with the mediators to this point and has significant gaps [from Israel’s demands].”

Israel’s negotiators were “continuing their work at every moment” and “will leave no stone unturned,” Gantz promised. “Every decision will be brought before the war cabinet. There will be no political considerations” in the decision-making,” he added (emphasis in original).

The Hamas announcement set off celebrations among Palestinians in Gaza.

Palestinians celebrate in the streets following Hamas’s announcement that it accepted a ceasefire proposal, in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip on May 6, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

In Tel Aviv, families of some hostages and other protesters blocked traffic on the Ayalon Highway, banging drums, blowing on bullhorns and lighting fires, urging the government to accept a deal for the return of their loved ones. Some protesters held a banner referring bitterly to Monday’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, reading “Never Again?”

There were also protests in and around Jerusalem’s Paris Square, and elsewhere in the country, urging the government to seal a deal.

Protesters on Balfour Street in Jerusalem demand that the government make a deal to free the hostages, May 6, 2024. (Orna Kupferman / Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

Meanwhile, the IDF announced that troops were striking and operating against Hamas sites “in a targeted manner” in eastern Rafah.

The announcement came after Palestinian media reported a series of strikes in the area, where the IDF earlier called for civilians to evacuate.

A picture taken on May 6, 2024, shows smoke billowing following bombardment east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)

Israel officials quoted by Channel 12 said Israel’s negotiating team could tell that “this is not the same proposal” for a deal that Israel and Egypt had agreed upon 10 days ago, and that served as the basis for the indirect negotiations since then.

“All kinds of clauses” have been inserted, the TV report said.

Israel Defense Forces tanks take position in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on May 6, 2024. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

These new clauses, among other issues, relate to the cardinal questions of if, how, and when the war would end, and what kind of guarantees were being offered to that effect. The report noted that Hamas had been toughening its demands in recent days and demanding that the war end during the first 40-day phase of the deal, rather than in the second or third phases.

Israel, for its part, has repeatedly rejected ending the war as part of a hostage deal at all, instead insisting that it will resume fighting once the deal is implemented, in accordance with its twin war goals: returning the hostages and destroying Hamas’s military and governance capacities.

Related: Specifics of a deal Hamas says it accepts, and that Israel says does not meet its terms

An Israeli official told Reuters that the Hamas announcement appeared to be “a ruse intended to make Israel look like the side refusing a deal,” following days of the US saying the ball was in Hamas’s court.

The official said that the proposal Hamas has accepted was a “softened” version of the Egyptian proposal, which includes “far-reaching” concessions that Israel cannot accept.

But an official briefed on the talks, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the offer Hamas accepted was effectively the same as one agreed to at the end of April by Israel.

And a US official familiar with the truce negotiations told Reuters that Netanyahu and the war cabinet “have not appeared to approach the latest phase of negotiations in good faith.”

A three-phase agreement

Khalil al-Hayya, a deputy to Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, told Al Jazeera that the proposal that the terror group has agreed to is a three-phased agreement, and that each stage will be 42 days long.

“On the first day of the first phase of the agreement, there is a clear commitment to temporarily stop military operations,” he said.

The second phase provides for the announcement of “a permanent cessation of military and hostile operations,” he added.

He further said that Egypt is a guarantor of the deal and will not allow the war to resume. He also said that the mediators informed Hamas that US President Joe Biden is committed to ensuring the implementation of the agreement.

According to a report in the Haaretz newspaper, Hamas sources claim to have received assurances from the US and Qatar, as well as Egypt, that Israel will not resume the war after the three-stage deal is implemented.

The war erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, when thousands of terrorists murdered some 1,200 people and seized 252 hostages amid acts of brutality and sexual assault.

Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip and against the Israeli government outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, May 4, 2024. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

In response to the onslaught, Israel launched a wide-scale offensive aiming to eliminate the terror group’s military and governance capabilities in Gaza and free the hostages, 128 of whom remain in captivity.

More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, according to unverifiable figures from Hamas health officials that do not distinguish between gunmen and civilians. Israel says it has killed 13,000 Hamas gunmen in Gaza as well as 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7. Two hundred and sixty-seven IDF soldiers have been killed in the fighting in Gaza.

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that Washington had received Hamas’s response to the latest truce proposal and was reviewing it and discussing it with the Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

CIA director Bill Burns is in the region “working on this in real time,” Miller added. Miller said a deal was “absolutely achievable.”

“We want to get these hostages out, we want to get a ceasefire in place for six weeks, we want to increase humanitarian assistance,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said, adding that reaching an agreement would be the “absolute best outcome.”

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

The Hamas announcement came directly after Netanyahu spoke with Biden on the phone, with a considerable part of the call devoted to the efforts to reach a truce-for-hostages deal.

Leaders around the Arab world were quick to respond to the Iran-backed terror group’s announcement, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas calling on the international community to pressure Israel to commit to a ceasefire in Gaza, according to Palestinian official news agency WAFA.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said he was closely following positive developments in the negotiations to reach a “comprehensive truce” in Gaza, and called on all parties to exert more effort to reach a deal.

Both Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-abdollahian and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that they had spoken to Qatar-based Haniyeh on the phone on Monday regarding the deal.

The Iranian foreign minister said on social media platform X that Haniyeh had assured him, “We are sincere in our intentions,” while Erdogan posted, “During the call, in which I stated that I found it positive for Hamas to take such a decision with Turkey’s suggestion, we emphasized that Israel must take a step for a lasting ceasefire too.”

On the streets of Gaza, crowds of Palestinians could be seen cheering and firing guns in the air after Hamas claimed to have accepted the ceasefire proposal from mediators Egypt and Qatar.

People could be seen crying tears of happiness, chanting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) and shooting in the air in celebration of the news, according to an AFP correspondent.

Netanyahu has for months vowed that Israeli troops would carry out an operation to root out the final Hamas strongholds in the southern Gaza city of Rafah regardless of a hostage release deal, with the IDF starting to issue evacuation orders to Palestinian civilians in the area on Monday.

The terror group, meanwhile, has rejected repeated Israeli truce offers during months of negotiations, with US officials repeatedly saying that the ball was in Hamas’s court when it came to accepting a deal.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week called the latest Israeli-backed proposal “extraordinarily generous” and said it should be a “no-brainer” for Hamas to accept. The specifics of the offer were widely reported, but not officially published or confirmed.

Throughout the months of negotiations to secure a deal, media reports have repeatedly suggested potential breakthroughs, but talks have always ultimately broken down, in part due to Hamas’s demand for a permanent ceasefire and Israel’s refusal to end the war without moving to eliminate the group’s remaining fighters in Rafah.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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