Hamas says no budging from already-rejected hostage deal offer as Cairo talks break up

Terror group claims ‘ball in the hands of the occupation’ after team decamps for Doha while insisting it will not make any concessions; Egypt says flexibility needed on both sides

Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, May 9, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, May 9, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Indirect talks between Israel and Hamas over a deal to halt fighting in the Gaza Strip and free hostages kidnapped on October 7 appeared to break up with no discernable progress, as the terror group said it had no intention of budging from a proposal already rejected by Israel.

With negotiations seemingly once again stuck after the sides had appeared close to an elusive agreement earlier this week, Egypt said both Israel and Hamas would need to show “flexibility.”

Izzat El-Risheq, a member of Hamas’s political office in Qatar, said Thursday that the Hamas delegation had left Cairo for Doha, Qatar, where its leadership is based, after affirming it was sticking with the terms it had agreed to Monday.

A senior Israeli official said the Israeli team had also left after handing mediators a list of its reservations about the Hamas proposal.

On Monday, Hamas claimed to have accepted a truce agreement with Israel, though it later emerged that the proposal it said had come from Egyptian and Qatari mediators included several elements fundamentally different from what Israel had agreed to. Jerusalem swiftly rejected the proposal for falling short of its “vital demands,” but okayed dispatching a working-level delegation to the indirect talks in Cairo.

In a message to other Palestinian factions published by the group’s al-Aqsa TV mouthpiece Friday, Hamas said talks had ended after Israel “rejected the proposal submitted by the mediators and raised objections to it.”

It said Hamas had decided to stick to the terms of the proposal it agreed to Monday, rejecting the possibility of making any concessions.

“The ball is now completely in the hands of the occupation,” the statement read.

It was unclear when talks would resume. CNN reported that US officials were describing the break as a “pause” while military operations in Rafah ramp up.

Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, May 6, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The IDF’s operation in Rafah has so far been limited to the eastern outskirts of the city and the border crossing with Egypt. The military said on Friday that the 401st Armored Brigade killed several gunmen in close quarters combat by the border crossing, while the Givati Brigade located tunnel shafts in the eastern part of the city.

Meanwhile, two rockets were launched from the Rafah region into the Kerem Shalom area in Israel on Friday. Both were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.

The specifics of the proposal Hamas said it had accepted Monday (Arabic text here) differed in numerous regards from the reported terms of what the US had hailed as an “extremely generous” Israeli offer.

Among the differences: Israel had demanded the release of 33 living hostages in a first stage, but the Hamas proposal would allow the group to free remains in place of living hostages, with most only to be released after the truce was over a month old; the Hamas proposal removes the veto Israel demanded on the release of certain Palestinian security prisoners, and raises the number of Palestinian security prisoners to be freed; the Hamas proposal provides for the free movement of Gazans back to the north of the strip, without security checks as required by Israel to prevent Hamas gunmen returning.

People walk by photographs of Israelis still held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. May 5, 2024. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The Hamas proposal also changes the timing of hostage releases within the phases, and some of the specifics on Israeli troop withdrawals. It also demands the release of all Palestinian security prisoners who were freed in the 2011 Shalit prisoner deal and have since been re-arrested.

Significantly, Hamas said on Monday night that it regards itself as having accepted terms for an end to the war, whereas both the Israeli-backed text and the Hamas response refer to restoring “sustainable calm.” In an introductory paragraph, however, the Hamas text says the “framework agreement aims for … a return to sustainable calm in a way that achieves a permanent ceasefire.”

Israel has consistently said it will not accept a deal that entails a permanent ceasefire, and that it will resume its military campaign after any truce-for-hostages deal in order to complete its two declared war goals: freeing the hostages and destroying Hamas’s military and governance capabilities.

IDF troops on the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to CNN, Hamas created another major obstacle in the negotiations on Monday by demanding Israel agree upfront to an initial 12-week truce, rather than the six weeks in the original framework.

After the talks faltered, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a phone conversation in which they agreed on “the importance of urging the parties to show flexibility and make all the necessary efforts to achieve a ceasefire agreement and put an end to the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza.”

The Egyptian foreign ministry put out a statement Friday saying the talks were in a “delicate phase,” with Cairo expressing fears that a full-scale Israeli incursion into the crowded Gazan city of Rafah, which sits on Egypt’s border, could threaten the “stability and security” of the region.

IDF troops operate in eastern Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, in a handout image released May 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that during their conversation, Blinken assured Shoukry “that the United States does not support a major military operation in Rafah” and rejects “any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza.”

More than one million Palestinians are thought to be sheltering in Rafah, though Israel insists its goal of eliminating Hamas cannot be achieved without tackling the city and the four Hamas battalions thought to be holding out in and below the city.

The US has offered tepid support for the limited operation to remove Hamas from the Rafah Crossing area, but warned that its stance could shift if the offensive widened to civilian areas or if the delivery of humanitarian aid was hampered for a sustained period, with US President Joe Biden saying Wednesday that he could halt arms transfers to Israel if it launches a major offensive. That came after the White House confirmed a delay in the transfer of 2,000- and 500-pound bombs over concerns that the IDF could use them in Rafah, as it has in other parts of Gaza.

According to a Lebanese report, Israel is planning on breaking its invasion into smaller, separate operations in different areas in Rafah so as not to draw the ire of the United States and the international community.

War broke out between Israel and Hamas following Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel which saw terrorists kill some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnap 252.

A man looks on as thick, black smoke rises from a fire in a building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 10, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

It is believed that 128 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that.

Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 12 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 36 of those still held by Hamas, citing new 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.

Hamas is also 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.

The Israeli offensive against Hamas has killed over 34,000 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. This figure cannot be independently verified and does not differentiate between civilians and members of terror organizations. Israel says it has killed over 13,000 Hamas operatives in Gaza since the war began and about 1,000 in Israeli territory on October 7.

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