Hamas tells mediators it’s ‘sticking to original position’ on demand for full ceasefire

Palestinian terror group appears to reject latest truce offer, hours after passage of UN Security Council resolution demanding Gaza cessation of hostilities, release of hostages

This image released by the IDF on January 20, 2024, shows the inside of a cell in a Hamas tunnel in southern Gaza's Khan Younis where hostages were held. (Israel Defense Forces)
This image released by the IDF on January 20, 2024, shows the inside of a cell in a Hamas tunnel in southern Gaza's Khan Younis where hostages were held. (Israel Defense Forces)

Palestinian terror group Hamas said Monday night that it informed mediators seeking the release of Israeli hostages that it will stick to its original position on demanding a permanent ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, a return of displaced Palestinians and a “real” exchange of “prisoners” — demands Israel has already rejected as delusional.

While the terror group has conditioned any further hostage releases on an Israeli commitment to end the war, Israel has insisted that its military campaign to destroy Hamas’s military and governance capabilities will resume once any hostage-truce deal is implemented.

Some 130 hostages — not all of them alive — are believed to remain in Gaza since Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw terrorists kill some 1,200 people and abduct another 253, mostly civilians.

Hamas claimed in a statement on Monday that Israel “did not respond to any of the basic demands of our people and our resistance (Hamas): a comprehensive ceasefire, withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the return of the displaced, and a real exchange of prisoners.” The statement appeared to constitute a rejection of the latest proposal on offer in Doha, where Israel and Hamas have been holding indirect talks via mediators from Egypt, Qatar, and the United States.

The terror group, which led the October 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war, claimed “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his extremist government bear full responsibility for thwarting all negotiation efforts and obstructing reaching an agreement so far.”

The Hamas statement came hours after the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and a release of hostages taken on October 7, after the United States abstained from the vote, sparking a spat with Israel. The remaining 14 council members voted for the resolution, backed by Russia and China, which called for a ceasefire without conditioning it on the release of hostages.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States Ambassador and Representative to the United Nations, speaks after a vote to abstain as the United Nations Security Council passed a ceasefire resolution in Gaza during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, its first demand to halt fighting at UN headquarters, March 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

In a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office after the adoption of the resolution, Israel warned that the US decision to abstain was harming the war effort against Hamas and undermining attempts to free hostages.

The statement called the decision “a clear retreat from the consistent US position in the Security Council since the beginning of the war,” and one that “gives Hamas hope that international pressure will allow them to get a ceasefire without releasing our hostages.”

Netanyahu also canceled a planned trip to Washington by his top aides to discuss plans for an offensive in the Gaza city of Rafah, a step that the US viewed as an overreaction.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan also blasted the Security Council for adopting a resolution that did not explicitly condition a ceasefire on the release of the hostages.

“On the one hand, the resolution says that taking civilians hostage is in violation of international law, yet on the other hand — despite the fact that you know Hamas won’t listen to your calls and release the hostages — you demand a ceasefire,” Erdan said in remarks to the body after the vote.

Erdan said that the council’s failure to condition a ceasefire on the hostages’ release “not only isn’t helpful, but it undermines the effort to secure their release. It is harmful to these efforts because it gives Hamas terrorists hope to get a ceasefire without releasing the hostages.”

Talks ongoing?

Egypt and Qatar have been trying to narrow differences between Israel and Hamas over what a hostage-truce deal should look like.

Reports circulating in Hebrew media on Sunday indicated that Jerusalem had softened its position and could be willing to release hundreds more Palestinian prisoners than initially agreed to in an initial phase of an accord.

A picture shows destruction from previous Israeli strikes in Gaza City, on March 25, 2024, amid the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (AFP)

Top Israeli and American officials involved in the talks returned home over the weekend after flying to Doha to participate in the negotiations, with sources in Jerusalem careful to curb any possible optimism over the likelihood of a breakthrough, even as the sides appeared to move closer together after months of painstaking discussions.

“Right now, we’re feeling 50/50 about the chances for a deal,” an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Sunday.

During the talks, Israel had accepted a recent US compromise proposal, a second Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Sunday, which has since been sent to Hamas. The official did not say what the proposal entailed, but reports suggested Israel was willing to nearly double the number of security inmates it had already agreed to release in exchange for 40 hostages — women, children, the sick and elderly — in the first phase of a 6-week truce deal.

According to a report carried by Channel 12 news, Israel is now willing to release as many as 800 prisoners, including 100 inmates convicted of murder. Other Hebrew media reports suggested Israel was prepared to release 700 security prisoners in return for the 40.

A framework deal Israel agreed to in Paris last month included a willingness to release 400 security inmates in the first phase of the deal.

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the main sticking point in talks has been the number of high-value prisoners Israel will release in exchange for female soldiers held by Hamas.

According to Channel 12, Israel showed increased flexibility as well by being willing to discuss allowing Palestinian civilians to return to northern Gaza, a first.

Quoting an unnamed senior source close to the talks, the channel reported that Israel has offered the return of 2,000 Gazans a day to the north, beginning two weeks after an agreement goes into effect and a temporary ceasefire begins.

The source said there would be unspecified conditions for a return to the north of the Strip, which Israel demanded civilians evacuate from when the war began, as fighting focused on Hamas’s seat of power in Gaza City and its environs. Men would likely not be permitted to return, according to the report.

Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip rally in Tel Aviv, March 23, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The report added that Israel continued to reject Hamas’s demands for a full military withdrawal and a permanent ceasefire.

In mid-March, Hamas presented a Gaza ceasefire proposal to mediators and the United States that included the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for freedom for Palestinian prisoners, 100 of whom are serving life sentences, according to the proposal seen by Reuters.

Hamas said the initial release of Israelis would include women, children, elderly and ill hostages in return for the release of 700-1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, according to the proposal. The release of Israeli “female recruits” was included. Hamas continued to demand a commitment from Israel to end the war and withdraw all IDF troops from Gaza.

Netanyahu’s office later responded to Hamas’s proposal saying it was based on “unrealistic demands,” vowing to press ahead with the military campaign until it eliminates Hamas’s military and governance capabilities.

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