ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Hamas said to reject Israeli offer for 7-day truce in Gaza, release of 40 hostages

Egyptian officials tell Wall Street Journal that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are demanding Israel end military operations in Strip before they’ll discuss a potential deal

Illustrative: Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists stand guard as a Red Cross vehicle transports newly released hostages in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on November 28, 2023. (Flash90)
Illustrative: Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists stand guard as a Red Cross vehicle transports newly released hostages in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on November 28, 2023. (Flash90)

Hamas has rejected an Israeli proposal for a week-long truce in the Gaza Strip in return for the release of some 40 hostages, including all women and children the terror group still holds, according to a report Wednesday.

Citing Egyptian officials, the Wall Street Journal reported that under the rejected proposal, Hamas would also free elderly male hostages who require urgent medical care. In exchange, Israel would halt air and ground operations in Gaza for a week and allow increased aid into the coastal territory.

But Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad — another Iran-backed terror organization slated to take part in negotiations for the first time — reportedly told Egyptian mediators Israel must end its offensive in the Strip before they will discuss any potential deal.

Even then, the report said Islamic Jihad demanded that Israel free all Palestinian prisoners for the release of all remaining hostages — estimated at some 100.

Senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad said on Wednesday: “We want to stop the aggression, the war in Gaza. This is our priority. There are some people looking for a small pause, a pause here and there, for one week, two weeks, three weeks. But I think our decision is very clear.”

Israel has said it will not halt its military campaign, and that this condition is a non-starter for talks.

The Egyptian officials quoted by the Wall Street Journal said Hamas’s dismissal of the proposal should not be seen as a failure in the negotiations, and that the terror group rejected the offer in an effort to extract further concessions from Israel.

This handout picture provided by the Iranian foreign ministry on December 20, 2023, shows Qatar-based Hamas politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh speaking to journalists as he welcomes the Iranian foreign minister (not in the picture), in Doha. (Photo by Iranian Foreign Ministry / AFP)

According to the report, Egyptian intelligence officials discussed the offer with Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh, who arrived Wednesday in Cairo.

Haniyeh’s visit is his second to Egypt since Hamas’s brutal October 7 onslaught, which triggered the ongoing war. He made a previous trip in early November.

Hamas leaders have publicly said they will only free hostages in exchange for a permanent ceasefire, though reports in recent days have indicated talks for another short-term truce to release more hostages may be advancing.

The terror group, which rules Gaza, sent thousands of gunmen into Israel on October 7, who killed around 1,200 people and took some 240 hostages, mostly civilians.

It is believed that 129 hostages 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 Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 21 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

The Reuters news agency reported Wednesday that “intensive” talks for a ceasefire and hostage release were being held, brokered by Qatar and Egypt. Citing an unnamed person briefed on the matter, the report said Jerusalem “is insisting that women and infirm male hostages be included,” and that “Palestinians jailed for serious offenses could also be on the roster.”

However, an unnamed Israeli official told CNN that “for the time being, it’s still negotiations. There is nothing final.”

Israeli soldiers fire mortars from southern Israel towards the Gaza Strip, in a position near the Israel-Gaza border, on December 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Also Wednesday, US President Joe Biden said “there’s no expectation at this point” of an imminent hostage deal but “we’re pushing it.”

Traveling with Biden to Wisconsin, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters, “These are very serious discussions and negotiations and we hope that they lead somewhere.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday also addressed a potential agreement, saying during a press conference that the Biden administration is interested and is working to secure another hostage deal and that Israel wants one too but that “the problem is Hamas,” which reneged on the terms of the previous agreement.

After he was pressed repeatedly during the press conference on what the US was doing to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza, Blinken hit back, saying that more attention by the media and the international community should be placed on Hamas’s agency in the conflict.

“What is striking to me is that even as we hear many countries urging an end to this conflict… I hear virtually no one demanding of Hamas that it stop hiding behind civilians, that it lay down its arms, that it surrender. This would be over tomorrow if Hamas does that,” Blinken said.

“How can it be that there are no demands made of the aggressor and only demands made of the victim? It would be good if there was a strong international voice pressing Hamas to do what is necessary to end this,” he added.

The secretary insisted that “any other country in the world faced with what Israel suffered on October 7 would do the same thing.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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