ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Hamas said to insist on deal that will end war, withdraw IDF troops from Gaza

Terror group yet to respond to Paris proposal for longer truce, release of hostages in exchange for Palestinian security prisoners; Likud ministers spar over terms

Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis kidnapped and held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, February 3, 2024. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)
Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis kidnapped and held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, February 3, 2024. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

Hamas on Sunday night appeared set to rebuff a deal that would free Israeli hostages without bringing a full halt to the nearly four-month war in Gaza, with a senior official from the terror group telling Al-Jazeera that internal discussions over a proposed agreement were continuing.

“Consultations with other factions regarding the proposal are ongoing,” the Hamas official was quoted as saying, adding that a response would be sent “soon.”

Several Hebrew media outlets reported that, contrary to earlier speculation, Hamas was unlikely to offer an immediate response to the proposal, which was thrashed out by top officials from Israel, Qatar, Egypt, and the United States during talks in Paris last week.

The reports said Hamas’s Gaza leader, Yahya Sinwar, would demand solid guarantees for an end to the war and the withdrawal of Israeli troops before releasing any more hostages taken captive in the terror group’s brutal October 7 onslaught — which Israel has said it will not do.

A source close to Hamas told the Palestinian Quds News Network that the sides were not close to agreement and confirmed that Hamas would demand an end to the war.

Channel 12 reported that internal debate among senior Hamas officials about the current proposal had largely been silenced, with the group’s leaders outside of the Strip recognizing that the final decision rests with the person with the capacity to free hostages — Sinwar.

Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, greets his supporters upon his arrival at a meeting in a hall on the sea side of Gaza City, on April 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)

In Israel, meanwhile, the war cabinet was meeting on Sunday evening, with ministers said to be discussing, among other matters: whether it would be possible to return to full combat operations after a lengthy pause; the imperative that any agreement include all of the 132 hostages abducted on October 7 who are still held in Gaza; and the identity of the terrorists who could be released from Israeli prisons under the deal.

During Sunday morning’s cabinet meeting, Likud’s Justice Minister Yariv Levin, Education Minister Yoav Kisch, Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Foreign Minister Israel Katz, and Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli reportedly insisted that any substantive decisions regarding a hostage deal would have to be approved by the full cabinet, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel. The demand included full cabinet approval for any further meetings abroad by Mossad chief David Barnea with international intermediaries.

During the meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ministers that the ratio of three Palestinian security prisoners released for every hostage freed — as was the case with the November hostage deal — should be the reference point for any further agreements. The weeklong November truce saw 105 Israeli and foreign hostages freed, but only 80 of them within the provisions of the deal, and the release of 240 women and underage Palestinian security prisoners.

“We’re making a tremendous effort and working with many means to free our hostages, but not at any cost,” the prime minister said, according to leaks from the meeting.

The war cabinet meets at the IDF’s Kirya military headquarters on January 25, 2024. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

He emphasized that Israel would not end the war until all its aims are accomplished — “the elimination of Hamas, bringing back all our hostages, and ensuring that Gaza will never again represent a threat to Israel.”

He also denied media reports that Israel had agreed to release large numbers of terrorists.

A Hamas source has said the current three-stage truce proposal under discussion includes an initial six-week pause in fighting that would see some hostages released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, with potential extensions of the temporary ceasefire. However, there have been numerous reports suggesting the agreement would include different terms.

According to Channel 12, Economy Minister Nir Barkat, also of Likud, demanded that the deal include the release of all of the hostages in a single phase, rather than stages contingent on certain terms. He also called for the cessation of humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza while the war is ongoing.

In recent weeks, protesters and some far-right lawmakers and activists have gathered at border crossings and at the Ashdod port in an attempt to block trucks heading to Gaza, claiming that moves to alleviate pressure on Gazan civilians, including through the delivery of humanitarian assistance, serve Hamas’s interests.

Police prevent activists from blocking trucks carrying humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip at the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza, in southern Israel, January 29, 2024. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

“You give gifts to Hamas — and Sinwar celebrates,” Barkat was quoted as saying.

Also speaking against the phased plan in Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Diaspora Minister Chikli said, “We have to look at the war as a marathon. The real challenge is not at the start, but from the 36th kilometer.”

“That’s where we are. The big test is now, and if we now stop the fighting for a month… we won’t finish the marathon and we won’t be able to fight with such force,” Chikli was quoted as saying.

According to other cabinet members, quoted by Ynet, Netanyahu orchestrated the opposition to the terms of the hostage deal voiced during the cabinet meeting in order to signal that his hands were tied.

“If it’s what I hear in the media, I won’t be able to support the deal,” Education Minister Kisch was quoted as saying.

War broke out following Hamas’s devastating October 7 massacres, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from Gaza by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, mostly civilians, under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

Burnt cars are left behind at the site of the attack three days earlier by Palestinian terrorists on the Supernova desert music festival, near Kibbutz Re’im in the Negev Desert in southern Israel, on October 10, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

In response, Israel launched an offensive aimed at removing Hamas from power in Gaza and releasing the hostages.

On Saturday night, thousands of people gathered again in Tel Aviv for protests criticizing Netanyahu’s handling of the war and the plight of the hostages. Family members of the hostages, with wide public support, are calling on Israel to reach an agreement with Hamas to bring them home.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive. 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 29 of those still held by Hamas, citing 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.

Agencies and Lazar Berman contributed to this report. 

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