ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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Dermer to meet Sullivan in US; Blinken in Israel over weekend

Hamas due in Cairo for hostage talks; PM rules out war’s end, mass prisoner releases

War cabinet member quoted saying proposed deal ‘hard to swallow,’ but may be ‘final chance’ for some hostages; Hamas official says talks will fail without permanent ceasefire

Families of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip gather with supporters for a demonstration demanding an immediate deal for their release as they block off a road near the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Families of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip gather with supporters for a demonstration demanding an immediate deal for their release as they block off a road near the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

A delegation of Hamas officials is expected to meet with Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel in Cairo on Wednesday to discuss a potential truce-for-hostages deal, an Egyptian official told Qatar’s Al Araby news channel on Tuesday, after the Gaza terror group confirmed that it had received and was examining the proposal.

The Qatar-brokered proposal, which was presented to Hamas by mediators after talks with Israel, would have three stages, during which all hostages held by Hamas in Gaza since October 7 would be released in return for an undetermined number of Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel, an unnamed Hamas official told the Reuters news agency.

The official said the proposal involved a phased truce, during which the terror group would first release the remaining civilians among the hostages abducted on October 7 (including children, women, the sick and elderly); then soldiers; and finally the bodies of hostages who were killed in captivity.

Both sides would be required to commit to halting military operations throughout all three stages, but the official did not indicate how long the three stages would last or what would follow the final stage.

However, Hamas politburo official Muhammad Nazal told Al Araby that the terror group’s aim is a permanent ceasefire and an exchange of “prisoners,” and insisted that the negotiations would not succeed if Israel does not fully withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

In a mark of the seriousness of the negotiations, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that he would be visiting Cairo to discuss the potential deal, in his first public trip to Egypt in over a month.

The talks on Wednesday will focus on the length of the lull in fighting during the first stage of the deal, as well as the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released by Israel in exchange for the hostages, Al Araby reported.

According to a separate report published by Arabic-language news outlet Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, Hamas will demand the release of 100-250 Palestinian prisoners for each IDF soldier it releases.

Quoting Egyptian security officials, the outlet reported that Israel and Hamas are expected to come to an agreement on the details of the deal by early next week.

Families of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip gather with supporters for a demonstration demanding an immediate deal for their release as they block off a road near the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

In response to the reports of Israel being prepared to make significant concessions and release a large number of Palestinian prisoners, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office released a statement insisting that the reports were incorrect.

“The prime minister’s position is consistent — the war will only end when all its goals are achieved, the IDF will not withdraw from the Strip and thousands of terrorists will not be released,” the statement read.

“The reports that a so-called agreement was reached on a solution for the release of security prisoners are not true,” specified Netanyahu’s office. “The issue was not discussed at all.”

The statement from Netanyahu’s office came hours after he made similar comments while visiting the Bnei David pre-military academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli earlier on Tuesday.

Addressing the students, Netanyahu vowed that Israel “will not remove the IDF from the Gaza Strip and we will not release thousands of terrorists.” Instead, he said, the only thing that would happen would be “absolute victory” in the war against Hamas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Bnei David military academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli, January 30, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

At the same time as Hamas examines the proposed deal, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer is expected to meet US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing war in Gaza and efforts to secure the release of the hostages, a source familiar with the matter told the Times of Israel.

The strategic affairs minister — a close confidant of Netanyahu — last visited Washington a month ago.

His visit will be followed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s sixth trip to Israel since October 7, which will take place from February 3 to February 5.

The war cabinet meets at the IDF’s Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on January 18, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israel’s war cabinet met on Monday evening to discuss the hostage deal outline, Channel 12 reported, adding that the meeting was mostly positive.

Speaking to Channel 12, an unnamed cabinet member said that while “it will be a hard deal to swallow, we need to remember that for the sick, the elderly and the women, without a doubt it may be their final chance.”

The report added that Israel’s security establishment supports the outline of the deal, but believes that the war will resume after it ends and it will not lead to a permanent ceasefire.

The war cabinet is expected to meet again on Thursday to discuss any developments that occur.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops.

The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 28 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

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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