Hamas won’t budge on hostage deal demands, including end to war; Qatar says talks stuck

Qatari PM says Doha committed to negotiations, but deadlock remains around north Gaza return, identity of prisoners to be released; IDF chief touts military pressure to force deal

Ismail Haniyeh, the Doha-based political bureau chief of the Palestinian terror group Hamas, speaks on a televised speech on the occasion of Quds (Jerusalem) Day on April 3, 2024. (Hamas Media Office/AFP)
Ismail Haniyeh, the Doha-based political bureau chief of the Palestinian terror group Hamas, speaks on a televised speech on the occasion of Quds (Jerusalem) Day on April 3, 2024. (Hamas Media Office/AFP)

Hamas will not budge on any of the conditions it had previously presented in negotiations for a truce deal in Gaza, the terror group’s Doha-based leader said on Wednesday, as Qatar’s prime minister said talks remained deadlocked, but would continue.

Israeli officials visited Egypt earlier this week, in a renewed effort to secure an agreement, but a Palestinian official close to mediation efforts said there had been no sign of a breakthrough.

In a televised speech ahead of Friday’s Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day, Ismail Haniyeh said Hamas would not retreat from any of its conditions for the release of 130 hostages held by the terror group since the October 7 massacre in southern Israel.

“We are committed to our demands: the permanent ceasefire, comprehensive and complete withdrawal of the enemy out of the Gaza Strip, the return of all displaced people to their homes, allowing all aid needed for our people in Gaza, rebuilding the Strip, lifting the blockade and achieving an honorable prisoner exchange deal,” he said.

Israel has insisted that it will only agree to a temporary pause in fighting and that the war will last until the terror group has been eliminated from Gaza in its entirety. It has rejected Hamas’s conditioning hostage releases on an end to the war and the withdrawal of IDF troops as “delusional.”

Haniyeh said Israel continues “to procrastinate stubbornly, and does not respond to our fair demands for an end to the war and aggression.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Tuesday that an Israeli delegation had returned from Cairo, after drawing up an updated proposal for a temporary truce and hostage release deal, which was expected to be presented to Hamas for consideration.

Senior Hamas official Bassem Naim said later in the day on Tuesday, however, that the group had not been sent any new proposals.

“The movement has not received any proposals from the mediators or the occupation (Israel) regarding a ceasefire and a prisoner exchange deal,” he said.

It was unclear if the proposal had been received as of Wednesday, and when a response could be expected from Hamas.

In Doha, Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said on Wednesday that negotiations on a Gaza ceasefire were deadlocked mainly over the return of displaced people to different parts of Gaza.

A source with knowledge of the talks said the Qatari leader was referring to a Hamas demand that displaced Palestinians be free to return to their homes in northern Gaza which Israel ordered evacuated early in the nearly six-month-old war.

“Hamas wants the public to be able to return to the north. This is huge for Hamas and the Israelis are giving them a hard time on that. The Israelis don’t want them (displaced Palestinians) to have freedom of movement,” said the source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Reports have indicated that Israel is open to allowing women and children to return, but fears allowing men back could give Hamas an opening to reestablish itself in areas where it has been uprooted.

Another sticking point, the source said, is whether Palestinian prisoners with life sentences would be part of the release. Hamas wants to free hundreds of high-value detainees serving time for serious terror offenses, including mass killings.

Al-Thani also swiped at Netanyahu, branding him as an “adventurous politicians who only care[s] about [his] own personal interests,” according to Israel’s Kan broadcaster.

Al-Thani was speaking out regarding a potential Israeli invasion of Rafah, asserting that Israel is the only country that supports such an operation.

The Qatari premier charged that Israeli plans to invade Rafah in southern Gaza “will lead to genocide, and the international community must tell Israel enough.”

The comments came a day after Israel passed a law authorizing the banning of Qatari broadcaster al-Jazeera. Israel has also accused Doha of insufficiently pressuring Hamas in the hostage negotiations, with the tensions reportedly leading the Israeli team to shift talks to Cairo this week.

“Qatar’s behavior is extremely disappointing. It has not used any of the leverage it has over Hamas. And it certainly has [leverage]: it hasn’t frozen bank accounts, hasn’t exiled families of Hamas [from Qatar], nothing,” a senior Israeli official said in comments carried by Channel 12 news Wednesday.

Meeting with officers in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said only military pressure would clinch a deal.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi meets troops in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, April 3, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

“We are pressing to deepen the achievement, and we are also pressing to try to bring about a shift in the negotiations, to bring about an agreement on the release of hostages, this is a task of utmost [importance],” Halevi said.

“We will press harder, however [much is] necessary,” he added.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (L) and his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani, arrive to give a joint press conference in Doha on April 3, 2024. (KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)

In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that an Israeli strike, which killed seven World Central Kitchen volunteers in central Gaza on Monday night, was not expected to derail the negotiations.

“I wouldn’t anticipate any particular impact on those discussions as a result of the strike yesterday,” said Kirby, adding, however, that the US is “frustrated” by the strike, which Israel’s top military officials have vowed will be thoroughly and transparently investigated.

Efforts to bring about a temporary cessation of fighting in Gaza and the release of the hostages have been unsuccessful, following a weeklong truce in late November, in which 105 hostages were released. Of the 130 hostages who are still in captivity, the IDF has said that 34 are no longer alive.

Demonstrators block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv during a protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip, March 26, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

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.

Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas from Gaza and topple the terror group’s 17-year rule after the deadly October 7 terror assault, in which some 1,200 Israelis were slaughtered and 253 were seized as hostages by the terror group during an invasion into southern Israel.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has said that around 33,000 people have been killed in the Palestinian enclave since the start of the war, but does not differentiate between combatants and civilians.

Israel has said it killed some 13,000 Hamas members in Gaza fighting, in addition to some 1,000 killed in Israel in the aftermath of the terror group’s October 7 massacre.

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