Hamas envoys leave Cairo, with deadlocked hostage deal talks to resume next week

Egypt says negotiations at an impasse over terror group’s demand for permanent ceasefire, making deal by Ramadan unlikely; Hamas official claims Israel ‘thwarting’ efforts

Smoke rises from an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from the Israeli side of the border, on March 6, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Smoke rises from an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from the Israeli side of the border, on March 6, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

A Hamas delegation left Cairo on Thursday, but will continue with Gaza truce talks until an agreement is reached with Israel, the terror group said in a statement, with a Hamas official blaming Israel for the lack of progress.

An official Egyptian source told the country’s Al-Qahera News state-affiliated TV channel that negotiations over a ceasefire in Gaza have reached an impasse over Hamas’s demand for a phased process culminating in an end to the war, but said talks will resume next week.

“Hamas’s delegation left Cairo this morning for consultation with the leadership of the movement, with negotiations and efforts continuing to stop the aggression, return the displaced, and bring in relief aid to our people,” the Hamas statement said.

But senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said Israel had been “thwarting” efforts to conclude a temporary ceasefire deal mediated by Qatar and Egypt during four days of talks hosted by Cairo.

Abu Zuhri told Reuters that Israel was rejecting Hamas’s demands to end its offensive in the enclave, withdraw its forces, and ensure freedom of entry for aid and the return of displaced people.

Egyptian officials had earlier said that despite the impasse, they did not rule out a deal being reached before the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin on Sunday and has emerged as an informal deadline.

A Palestinian street vendor sells traditional “fanous” lanterns as Muslim devotees prepare for the start of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 5, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The Egyptian officials said Hamas has agreed on the main terms of such an agreement as a first stage, but wants commitments that it will lead to an eventual, more permanent ceasefire.

There was no immediate comment from Israel.

Negotiators from Hamas, Qatar, and Egypt — but not Israel — have tried this week to secure a 40-day ceasefire in time for Ramadan.

The deal presented to Hamas for Gaza would free at least some of the hostages the terror group still holds following the October 7 massacre in a first stage. Palestinian prisoners held in Israel would also be released.

Hamas pledged to continue the Cairo talks, but officials in the terror group said a ceasefire must be in place before hostages are freed, Israeli forces must leave Gaza and all Gazans must be able to return to homes they have fled.

Hamas is also demanding the release of a large number of prisoners, including convicted terrorist operatives serving life sentences, in exchange for the remaining hostages.

Israel has publicly ruled out those demands, saying it intends to resume the offensive after any ceasefire with the goal of destroying Hamas.

A source had earlier said Israel was staying away from the Cairo talks because Hamas refused to provide a list of hostages who are still alive. Hamas says this is impossible without a ceasefire as hostages are scattered across the war zone.

A man puts of photographs of the Israelis still held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv, March 4, 2024. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The Egyptian officials say Israel wants to confine the negotiations to a more limited agreement. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the negotiations with the media. Both officials said mediators are still pressing the two parties to soften their positions.

Despite earlier comments negotiations were at an impasse, the US said on Wednesday that a truce accord was still possible.

“We continue to believe that obstacles are not insurmountable and a deal can be reached… so we’re going to continue to push for one,” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in Washington.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that negotiators are proposing a short-term truce lasting only a few days to buy time. The idea is being pushed by both the US and Arab parties to the talks in Cairo, the newspaper said.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said Thursday that the death toll in the Gaza Strip has surpassed 30,800 since October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists launched a murderous rampage across southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages. Hamas’s figures cannot be verified, do not differentiate between combatants and civilians, and include some 13,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle since October.

Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

Hamas officials also said Israel had on Thursday returned 47 bodies of Palestinians it had killed earlier during the military offensive, through its crossing with the enclave in the southern Gaza Strip.

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