Blinken calls for Hamas to accept 'immediate ceasefire'

Hamas team remains in Cairo for another day as hostage talks stall

Egyptian official acknowledges ‘difficulties,’ as terror group claims to be waiting for Israeli response to its demands

A woman holds up a picture of a hostage held captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip as she stands next to Israeli soldiers at Israel's Nitzana border crossing with Egypt in southern Israel, March 5, 2024, protesting against the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip until all hostages are released. (AP/Leo Correa)
A woman holds up a picture of a hostage held captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip as she stands next to Israeli soldiers at Israel's Nitzana border crossing with Egypt in southern Israel, March 5, 2024, protesting against the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip until all hostages are released. (AP/Leo Correa)

With talks for a hostage release and truce deal in Cairo seemingly bogged down, Hamas said on Tuesday that it was keeping negotiators in Egypt at the request of mediators.

“The delegation will remain in Cairo on Tuesday for more talks, they are expected to wrap up this round later today,” a Hamas official told Reuters.

Talks have been ongoing in Cairo for two days, though Israel declined to send a delegation after Hamas refused to address key demands.

Hamas politburo official Bassem Naim told Reuters earlier in the day that the group had presented its proposal for a ceasefire agreement to mediators during the two days of talks, and was waiting for a response from the Israelis.

“[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu doesn’t want to reach an agreement and the ball now is in the Americans’ court” to press him for a deal, Naim said.

Israel has declined to comment publicly on the talks in Cairo.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters at an evening press conference, February 29, 2024. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

An Egyptian source told Sky News Arabia that talks were ongoing, while acknowledging there were “difficulties.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Hamas to accept an “immediate ceasefire” with Israel.

“We have an opportunity for an immediate ceasefire that can bring hostages home, that can dramatically increase the amount of humanitarian assistance getting to Palestinians who so desperately need it, and then also set the conditions for an enduring resolution,” Blinken said during a visit by the Qatari prime minister in Washington.

“It is on Hamas to make decisions about whether it is prepared to engage in that ceasefire,” he said. “It’s also urgent — irrespective of a ceasefire — to dramatically increase the humanitarian assistance that is getting to people inside Gaza.”

“The situation for children, for women, for men who were caught in the crossfire of Hamas’s making inside of Gaza is unacceptable and unsustainable,” he said, calling for Israel to “maximize every possible means, every possible method of getting assistance to people who need it.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani speak to the press in the Treaty Room of the State Department in Washington, DC, on March 5, 2024. (Photo by Drew ANGERER / AFP)

Egyptian security sources said on Monday they were still in touch with the Israelis to allow the negotiations to continue without an Israeli delegation present.

Israel believes that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar is involved in the organization’s decision-making, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel, despite reports that he has been out of touch for as long as a week.

Another source said this week that Israel was staying away because Hamas had rejected its demand to produce a list of all hostages who are still alive.

Naim claimed that this was impossible without a ceasefire first, as hostages were scattered across the war zone and held by separate groups.

The Cairo talks had been billed as a final hurdle to reach the war’s first extended ceasefire — a 40-day truce during which hostages would be freed and aid would be pumped into Gaza to stave off famine ahead of Ramadan, which is due to begin at the start of next week.

Palestinians at the site of an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 4, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Egypt’s Qahera television also reported the talks had been extended for a third day Tuesday, adding that they were “facing difficulties.”

Asked about Naim’s claim that Israel was holding up the deal, a senior Israeli official said that was incorrect.

“Israel is making every effort to reach an agreement. We are awaiting a response from Hamas,” the official said.

On Monday, a senior Hamas official told Lebanese outlet Al Mayadeen that “there is no real progress” in hostage talks, which he attributed to Israel’s “refusal to give clear answers regarding Hamas demands.”

Those demands — nonstarters for Israel — are a full ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, and allowing displaced Gazans to return home before the terrorist organization gives any information on the hostages it holds.

Workers pour concrete in a Hamas tunnel in northern Gaza in an undated photo released by the military on March 5, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Another senior unnamed Hamas official told Arab World Press that “the ball is in Israel’s court” on the hostage talks, after the terror group presented its criteria for the Palestinian prisoners it wants to see released.

Hamas did not give names of specific prisoners, but the official said at least 20 Palestinians serving life sentences would be included.

The source added that Hamas was not pushing for an immediate return of Gazans to the north of the Strip because of the risk of overcrowding, but wanted there to be an orderly, staged return of over 500 families daily throughout the ceasefire period, with the Red Cross and UNRWA being involved.

Along with the United States, Egypt and Qatar have been mediating the negotiations in the almost five-month-old war between Israel and Hamas, which began with a shock assault by the Gaza terror group on October 7, when thousands of terrorists invaded southern Israel, killed nearly 1,200 people, and took 253 hostages, while committing numerous atrocities and weaponizing sexual violence on a mass scale.

Palestinians gather in a street as humanitarian aid is airdropped in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, on March 1, 2024. (AFP)

On Friday, US President Biden acknowledged that although a deal remains elusive for now, he still hopes it will be finalized by Ramadan. “I’m hoping so, we’re still working real hard on it,” the president told reporters at the White House, adding: “We’ll get there but we’re not there yet — we may not get there.”

An unnamed Hamas official told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday that while there is slow progress on an agreement for a temporary ceasefire and hostage deal, it seems unlikely that it will be reached before Ramadan’s start on March 10, and instead may come to fruition by the first weekend of the Muslim holy month.

Unnamed officials cited by Hebrew media on Sunday said Jerusalem suspects that Sinwar, Hamas’s Gaza chief, has no intention of reaching an agreement in the coming days, and hopes to escalate violence over Ramadan, which is usually a time of heightened tensions between Palestinians and Israel.

In such a scenario, Israel is wary of an escalation not just along its borders with Gaza and Lebanon, but also across the West Bank, where tensions are high, as well as in Jerusalem, where clashes over the Temple Mount and access to the holy site are widely expected.

US President Joe Biden walks towards members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, March 1, 2024, to travel to Camp David, Maryland., for the weekend. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

It is believed that 130 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 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

Vowing to dismantle the Palestinian terror group, Israel launched an unprecedented ground and air campaign on the Gaza Strip, which has seen about half the Strip’s residences destroyed, displacing over a million people, many of whom face severe risk of starvation.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 30,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting so far, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

Most Popular
read more: