Unclear whether Israel will still negotiate after repeated compromises

Hamas indicates it will snub latest hostage deal offer, but says talks to continue

Lebanon-based Osama Hamdan says mediators’ latest proposal is ‘negative,’ warns Rafah op would collapse talks, as terror group said readying to submit amended outline of its own

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to families and supporters of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza during a protest calling for their return, after meeting families of hostages in Tel Aviv, May 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to families and supporters of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza during a protest calling for their return, after meeting families of hostages in Tel Aviv, May 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Hamas on Wednesday night appeared poised to reject the latest hostage deal proposal crafted by mediators and green-lit by Israel.

Osama Hamdan, a Hamas official based in Lebanon, told the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar TV, “Our position on the current negotiating paper is negative.”

Hamas’s press office subsequently clarified, “The negative position does not mean negotiations have stopped. There is a back-and-forth issue.”

The terror group was reportedly slated to submit on Thursday an amended proposal to the one crafted by Qatari, Egyptian and American brokers.

But it is unclear whether Israel will be prepared to demonstrate further flexibility after it already agreed to a proposal providing for the release of just 33 female, elderly and sick hostages in the first stage of the truce deal following Hamas’s rejection of the previous proposal that envisioned the release of 40 of the most vulnerable hostages.

Hamas’s opposition to the latest offer stems from its belief that the proposal doesn’t go far enough in guaranteeing an end to the war, an Arab diplomat told The Times of Israel. Instead, it envisions the sides holding talks during the first, six-week phase on a permanent ceasefire.

Families and supporters of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza hold banners and flags during a protest calling for their return, outside a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and families of hostages in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Israel has refused to commit to ending the war, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday that the IDF would launch a mass invasion of Rafah to dismantle Hamas’s remaining battalions in Gaza’s southernmost city regardless of whether or not there is a hostage deal, according to an Israeli official.

Hamdan warned that Hamas will walk away from the negotiations if Israel launches its long-pledged operation in Rafah.

For his part, Blinken continued voicing the Biden administration’s stance that Hamas is the side preventing a hostage deal.

“Israel has made very important compromises in the proposal that’s on the table, demonstrating its desire, willingness to get this agreement done,” he said during a press conference while visiting the Ashdod Port, which last month Israel began using to more directly transport aid to Gaza.

“Now, as we’ve been saying, it’s on Hamas. Hamas has to decide whether it will take this deal and actually advance the situation for the people that it purports to care about in Gaza. There is no time for delay,” he said.

Blinken also reiterated Washington’s opposition to a major IDF ground invasion in Rafah, “absent an effective plan to make sure that civilians are not harmed” — one that he said Israel has yet to provide.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (second left) meets with relatives of hostages held by Hamas, in Tel Aviv, May 1, 2024. (The Hostages Families Forum Headquarters)

“There are… better ways of dealing with the real ongoing challenge of Hamas that do not involve or require a major military operation in Rafah,” he added.

While Israel’s negotiating team approved the deal that Hamas appeared slated to reject, it is unclear whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government would’ve been willing to give a final sign-off.

Far-right coalition parties have repeatedly slammed the proposal as surrender to the terror group’s demands and as an abandonment of the initial war goal of eliminating Hamas’s governing capabilities in Gaza, and they have openly threatened to topple the government if it is approved.

They are demanding an imminent offensive in Rafah, which has been promised by the government for several months.

Earlier Wednesday, the Lebanese news outlet al-Akhbar published what it said is the text of the truce offer presented to Hamas late last week.

The first stage of the deal, to last 40 days, would involve a phased withdrawal of Israeli troops from parts of the Strip in order to allow the movement of humanitarian aid and the return of civilians to their homes.

Light illuminates the minarets of al-Taiba mosque at sunset before the tents of displaced Palestinians at a camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 30, 2024. (AFP)

The deal would provide for 500 trucks, including 50 fuel trucks, to enter the Strip each day along with supplies designed to rehabilitate the Strip.

Israel would cease aerial surveillance of the Strip for eight hours each day and for 10 hours on days that hostages are released.

Hamas would release at least 33 living captives — female civilians and soldiers, children under the age of 19, the elderly, the sick, and the wounded in the first stage. On day seven of the deal, Hamas would provide the names of all other living hostages beyond the 33.

For every female civilian and child released, Israel would free 20 minors and female Palestinian prisoners. For every elderly, sick and injured hostage released, Israel would free 20 prisoners over 50 who are also sick and injured, as long as they are not serving a sentence of over 10 years.

For every female soldier released, Israel would free 20 prisoners serving a life sentence, and another 20 serving 10 years at most, who may be released to Gaza or abroad.

Hamas would provide a list of prisoners it wants to be released, containing up to 20 names; Israel would retain a veto on the names provided by Hamas.

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, Gaza Strip. Monday, April 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammad Jahjouh)

From the 16th day of the truce, the sides would begin indirect negotiations on an arrangement to restore sustainable calm to Gaza, the report said.

The second stage of the deal — to last 42 days — would involve completing agreed-upon arrangements for sustainable calm. And it will see the release of remaining Israeli male civilians and soldiers, in exchange for a certain number of Palestinian prisoners and the full withdrawal of IDF troops from Gaza.

The third stage, which will last 42 days, will involve the exchange of dead bodies from both sides and the implementation of a five-year rehabilitation plan for Gaza, including a provision that Hamas must not rebuild its military infrastructure.

Israel has estimated that 129 of the hostages seized on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — following a November truce. Four hostages were released prior to that, and three were rescued alive by troops. The bodies of 12 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has also confirmed the deaths of 34 of those still in captivity.

In addition to the hostages seized on October 7, Hamas has also been 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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