PM rejects 'extreme' demands, reiterates war goals

Hamas departs Cairo as latest hostage, truce talks said to be nearing ‘collapse’

CIA chief heads to Qatar, will then come to Israel, in bid to keep negotiations alive, as Hamas official speaks of ‘decision line,’ while Israeli leaders suggest Rafah op is near

Families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip and their supporters demand a deal for their loved ones' release, outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, May 5, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip and their supporters demand a deal for their loved ones' release, outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, May 5, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The latest round of Gaza truce and hostage deal talks ended in Cairo after “in-depth and serious discussions,” the Hamas terror group said Sunday, reiterating key demands that Israel rejected, dimming hopes for an agreement.

Israel did not send a delegation to the talks mediated by Egypt and Qatar, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Sunday afternoon that “we see signs that Hamas does not intend to go to any agreement.”

Egyptian state media reported that the Hamas delegation left Cairo for discussions in Qatar, where the group has a political office, after submitting its response to a proposal to mediators, and will return to Egypt for further negotiations on Tuesday.

In their second day of talks with Egyptian and Qatari mediators, Hamas negotiators maintained their stance that any agreement on a release of hostages must end the war, Palestinian officials said. Israel has repeatedly rejected this demand.

CIA director Bill Burns meanwhile was headed to Doha for “emergency” talks on mediation efforts with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, a source with knowledge of the discussions told AFP.

After that, he will travel to Israel and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the negotiating team, senior Israeli officials told the Walla news site, adding that Burns, along with the other mediators, is trying to prevent the talks from imploding.

One official briefed on the talks told Reuters: “The latest round of mediation in Cairo is near to collapse.” In a conflicting report, a senior Hamas official told Channel 12 that the talks were not collapsing but at the “decision line.”

Israeli soldiers work on a tank at a staging ground near the border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, May 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The proposal that Egyptian mediators had put to Hamas sets out a three-stage process. It reportedly includes a first phase lasting up to 40 days, in which at least 33 of 128 hostages held in Gaza would be released, along with an IDF withdrawal from parts of the Strip. The first phase would allow for the return of Palestinians to northern Gaza and the release of hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for hostages.

The potential second phase would last for 42 days and see the release of all other living hostages and the sides completing arrangements for sustainable calm in Gaza. The third and final phase, which would see an exchange of bodies, would also last 42 days.

The Hamas source told Channel 12 that the terror group was concerned that the United States would allow Israel to operate against Hamas and its leaders even after a truce deal. The official claimed that while the terror group was not insisting on controlling the government of the Strip, its leaders, such as Yahya Sinwar, did not want to be vulnerable to attack.

The official also said that rumors that Qatar may boot Hamas’s political leadership from Doha were not affecting the negotiations and that they could move to a hotel “in Malaysia or Istanbul.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under pressure from hard-liners in his government, continued on Sunday to lower expectations for a truce deal, calling the key Hamas demands “extreme” — including the withdrawal of Israel forces from Gaza and an end to the war. That would equal surrender after the terror group’s devastating onslaught on October 7 that triggered the fighting, Netanyahu said.

The senior Hamas official told Channel 12 that Netanyahu’s declarations that the military would invade Rafah, Hamas’s last stronghold, no matter what agreement is reached showed that the prime minister would return to fighting after the first stage of a deal, and caused the terror group to doubt US commitments to bring an end to the fighting.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in a statement earlier said the terror group was serious and positive about the negotiations and that stopping so-called Israeli aggression in Gaza was the main priority.

But Israel’s government again vowed to press on with a military operation in Rafah, the southernmost Gaza city on the border with Egypt where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents now seek shelter from Israeli attacks. Rafah is also a key entry point for aid entering via Egypt.

Palestinians search for casualties in the rubble of a house destroyed in an Israeli strike in the center of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 5, 2024. (AFP)

Netanyahu claimed that Israel has shown willingness to make concessions but said it “will continue fighting until all of its objectives are achieved.” That includes the stated aim of crushing Hamas. Israel says it must target Rafah to strike the remaining terror battalions there, despite warnings from the US and others about the danger to civilians, and to ensure that Hamas cannot return to smuggling in military materials from across the border with Egypt.

Israel believes that 128 hostages, both living and dead, who were abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza. During a weeklong truce in November, 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity, with four hostages released prior to that. Three hostages were rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 12 hostages have been recovered from the Strip, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 35 of those hostages still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

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