ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Hamas says more time needed to announce position on potential hostage deal

Lebanon-based official says terror group ‘open to discussing any initiative’; Israel reportedly unclear on cause of delay, cites possible divisions within Hamas

Israelis rally to demand securing the release of hostages held by terrorists in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv, February 3, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis rally to demand securing the release of hostages held by terrorists in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv, February 3, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A senior Hamas official said Saturday that a final agreement had not yet been reached over a tentative truce deal to pause the nearly four-month war with Israel in Gaza.

Leaders from the terror group were reviewing a proposed framework thrashed out by top officials from Israel, Qatar, Egypt, and the United States during talks in Paris last week, said Osama Hamdan, a top Hamas official in Lebanon.

But more time was needed, he said, to “announce our position.”

He told a news conference that his movement “has repeatedly said” it was “open to discussing any initiative… putting an end to this barbaric aggression against our Palestinian people.”

But while Hamdan confirmed the group had received the truce proposal drafted by mediators in Paris, he said an agreement had not yet been reached and that the plan was missing some details.

“We will announce our position” soon, “based on… our desire to put an end as quickly as possible to the aggression that our people suffer,” he added.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan speaks during a rally organized by Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group to express solidarity with the Palestinian people, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, May 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Hamdan, whose organization has demanded a total ceasefire prior to any agreement, also denounced an “Israeli disinformation campaign” aimed at “distorting” Hamas’s position.

Israel has “rejected all initiatives made so far… in order to continue the aggression,” he claimed.

The war broke out with Hamas’s devastating October 7 attack in which terrorists killed some 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians. The 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists who invaded from the Gaza Strip also abducted 253 people who were taken as hostages into Gaza; 132 hostages abducted on October 7 are still held in Gaza.

In response to the October 7 attack, Israel launched an offensive aimed at removing Hamas from power in Gaza and releasing the hostages.

A Hamas source has said the current three-stage truce proposal under discussion included 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 reports suggesting the agreement would include different terms.

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)

The Kan public broadcaster reported there were differences of opinion among Israeli officials as to what was causing the delay in a Hamas response to the proposed deal.

One view was that it was a technicality, as the response is to be delivered to Israel via Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who also serves as the emirate’s foreign minister, and he only returned to his country over the weekend after participating in proposal talks abroad.

Others claim it is due to a serious internal debate among senior Hamas officials about the current proposal. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the prevailing dynamic within Hamas has flipped, with the terrorist organization’s chief in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, willing to agree to a temporary truce while its leaders outside of the Strip are pushing for further Israeli concessions and a permanent ceasefire.

Israel is expecting an answer from Hamas within the next day or two, Channel 12 reported Saturday.

According to an unsourced Kan report, Israeli officials are waiting to call another security cabinet meeting about the proposed hostage deal in order to prevent leaks from the meeting from influencing a Hamas decision.

Israel is also not speaking with mediators until a response comes through, the report said, for the same reason.

Hamas and Egyptian sources told the Al-Arabiya outlet that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who is based in Qatar, has delayed a fresh trip to Cairo in which he would discuss the hostage proposal. A Hamas delegation led by Haniyeh was in the Egyptian capital last week for talks on the subject.

IDF troops seen operating in Gaza in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 4, 2024. (IDF)

Haniyeh has said any ceasefire must lead to “a full withdrawal” of Israeli troops from Gaza.

According to his office, Haniyeh spoke Friday with allied, but smaller, Gaza-based terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ziad Nakhaleh, and the two agreed any deal with Israel for the release of hostages must be accompanied by a complete halt to the fighting, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, ending Israel’s blockade of the enclave, reconstruction of the Strip and the freeing of Palestinian security prisoners.

Such steep demands would seem to be nonstarters for Israel. The insistence on large-scale prisoner releases and an end to the fighting in Gaza put Hamas at odds with the multi-stage proposal hammered out in Paris that officials put forth last week. That proposal does not include a permanent ceasefire.

Israeli leaders have said they will keep fighting until Hamas is crushed, even while agreeing to long pauses that are accompanied by the release of hostages.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military is in favor of a deal to release the hostages even if it means halting the fighting for a prolonged period, Kan reported.

The unsourced report said that Israel Defense Forces officials note that the military campaign has not succeeded in releasing the hostages, which is one of the two goals of the offensive.

Hamas and other terror factions are holding onto 132 of the 253 hostages abducted on October 7, following a weeklong November truce deal that saw the release of 105 civilians, mostly women and children.

The IDF has said 29 of the 132 are dead, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown. 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.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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