Hamas spurns latest hostage deal proposal, demands permanent ceasefire

Israel says Palestinian terror group uninterested in humanitarian agreement, wants to capitalize on escalating conflict with Iran

A display calling for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas during a demonstration outside Hakirya Base, which houses the Defense Ministry, in Tel Aviv, April 13, 2024. (Dor Pazuelo/Flash90)
A display calling for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas during a demonstration outside Hakirya Base, which houses the Defense Ministry, in Tel Aviv, April 13, 2024. (Dor Pazuelo/Flash90)

Hamas poured cold water Saturday on the latest proposal for a temporary ceasefire in the Gaza Strip in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages it holds, insisting it wants a complete end to the war.

Israel said the rejection of the proposal shows that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar is not interested in a humanitarian agreement, and is instead trying to take advantage of tensions with Iran that boiled into open warfare as Tehran fired hundreds of drones, cruise, and ballistic missiles at Israel overnight.

Truce talks started on April 7 in Cairo but have so far brought no breakthrough on a plan presented by US, Qatari, and Egyptian mediators. War erupted on October 7 when Hamas led a devastating cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people. Israel responded with a military campaign in Gaza to destroy Hamas and free the 253 hostages abducted by terrorists during the Hamas assault.

The recent proposal was widely reported to offer a temporary ceasefire of at least several weeks in return for the release of dozens of hostages. Israel would also set free hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners held in its jails alongside enabling a boost in aid to Gaza, where a humanitarian crisis has ballooned amid the fighting.

Hamas announced it had submitted its response to the latest hostage deal proposal and that it was sticking to its original demands for a permanent ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the entirety of Gaza, the return of Palestinians to northern Gaza and other areas, a surge in humanitarian aid and the start of the Strip’s reconstruction.

Those demands are nonstarters for Israel.

Left: Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, Gaza City, April 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana) Right: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, December 10, 2023. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool Photo via AP)

Nonetheless, Hamas claimed it is still prepared to reach an agreement and the statement didn’t explicitly reject the latest proposal put together by American, Qatari, and Egyptian negotiators in consultation with Israel.

In Israel, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Mossad intelligence agency, which has led negotiations, said the Hamas response amounted to a rejection of the offer.

“The rejection of the proposal from the three mediators,” said the PMO in a statement, “which included significantly greater room for flexibility on the Israeli side, proves that Sinwar is not interested in a humanitarian deal and in the return of the hostages, and continues to take advantage of tensions with Iran to try to unite the theaters and to achieve a general escalation in the region.”

Israel will continue to work to achieve its goals, the statement said, and will “turn over every stone to bring back the 133 hostages from Gaza as soon as possible.” Of the 253 people abducted on October 7 in the Hamas onslaught, 129 are still in captivity, some of them believed no longer alive. Israel also wants the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed and captured in 2014, as well as the return of two Israeli citizens who entered Gaza of their own accord around that time.

This video grab from AFPTV taken on April 14, 2024, shows explosions lighting up Jerusalem sky as Israeli air defenses respond to an Iranian attack on Israel. (AFPTV/AFP)

Israel received news that Hamas had rejected the latest hostage deal offer at 7 p.m. Saturday night, but was too focused on the Iranian attack to immediately put out a statement, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel.

A low-level Israeli negotiating team is still in Cairo.

Earlier Saturday the PMO said in a statement that Hamas, not Netanyahu, is to blame for the hold-up in reaching an agreement, not Netanyahu.

“Contrary to reports, the only obstacle to obtaining the release of the hostages is Hamas and not any factor on the Israeli side,” the PMO said.

It was unclear what reports it was referring to but a television report last week cited two negotiation officials as blaming Netanyahu for the failure to reach an agreement.

“Among other things, Hamas demands an end to the war and a complete withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip. The cabinet and the security forces are united in their opposition to these delusional demands,” the PMO said.

“Despite the broad mandate that the negotiating team received from the prime minister and the cabinet, Hamas has to this day refused any deal and any compromise proposal,” the statement continued.

“The instructions of the political echelon were given after consultation with the negotiating team with the aim of obtaining the release of our hostages and maintaining Israel’s security, without any other considerations,” it said.

Large crowds hold an anti-government protest at the junction of Tel Aviv’s Kaplan and Begin streets, April 13, 2024 (Pro-Democracy Protest Movementת @Sha_b_p)

The government is under public pressure over its handling of the war, with tens of thousands attending rallies in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other locations on Saturday calling for a hostage release deal and Netanyahu’s ouster.

The day after the Hamas attack in the south, Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah began attacking along Israel’s border with Lebanon. Amid near-daily rocket attacks, the Israel Defense Forces hit back at Hezbollah infrastructure, striking deep into Lebanon, and allegedly also in Syria.

Tensions between Israel and Iran reached a new high in recent days as the Islamic Republic vowed to avenge seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members, including two generals, who were killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike on a building near Tehran’s consulate in Damascus on April 1.

Overnight Saturday, Iran fired hundreds of ballistic and cruise missiles as well as drones at Israel. The IDF said Sunday that “99.9 percent” were intercepted before they reached their targets. US, British, and Jordanian forces also shot down many of the incoming threats.

A small number of missiles fell in Israel, with one causing minor damage at an air force base, the IDF said.

The escalating conflict with Iran has raised international concerns that it could boil into a regional war alongside the existing fighting in Gaza.

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