As Hamas sticks to demands, Israeli officials warn Cairo talks likely an ’empty show’

Terror group still seeks full IDF pullout from Gaza, as Biden urges mediators to put pressure on for a deal; unnamed Israeli source says talks give families ‘false hope’

Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, speaks during an interview in November 2023 (video screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, speaks during an interview in November 2023 (video screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A Hamas delegation headed by the group’s deputy chief in Gaza, Khalil Al-Hayya, will go to Cairo on Sunday for Gaza ceasefire talks, in response to an invitation extended by Egyptian mediators, the group said in a statement.

CIA Director Bill Burns is expected to attend Sunday’s talks, along with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and an Israeli delegation, Egypt’s Al Qahera news reported on Saturday.

Among the Israeli officials expected to attend the talks are Mossad chief David Barnea and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar.

Hamas on Saturday reiterated its demands issued in a March 14 proposal prior to a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that was passed on March 25.

“Hamas confirms its adherence to the position it presented on March 14 … and we will not back down from this position,” it said in a statement.

“The demands … are complete ceasefire, withdrawal of the occupation forces from Gaza, the return of the displaced to their residential areas, freedom of movement of the people, offering them aid and shelter, and a serious hostage exchange deal,” it said.

An Israeli diplomatic source told Channel 12 news Saturday that Hamas believes it can force a ceasefire on Israel without releasing hostages “because of the international pressure on us, and because of the internal crisis between Israel and the US.”

“The departure of a senior delegation to Cairo, without a compromise on Hamas’s part, will raise false hopes among the families and it will be an ’empty show,'” the source said.

Ministers and other officials familiar with the details of the talks told Channel 12 that the main sticking point in the talks was the question of the return of displaced Palestinians to the northern Gaza Strip. They said that negotiators needed a broader mandate than what they have been given so far by the government to finalize a deal.

Hamas’s insistence on its demands came as US President Joe Biden urged an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza.

Children look on from behind the gate of an enclosed area, painted in the colors of the Palestinian flag, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 5, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Ahead of the weekend talks, Biden wrote to the leaders of Egypt and Qatar urging them to secure commitments from Hamas to “agree to and abide by a deal,” a senior US administration official told AFP.

However, the mediators of hostage negotiations between Israel and Hamas are failing to exert any pressure on the terror group, a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Friday.

Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar “is dragging his feet and does not want a deal, despite Israel’s tremendous flexibility,” the senior Israeli official claimed.

“No pressure [on Hamas] is being jointly applied by the Qatar-led mediators. Qatar has refrained from deporting the Hamas leaders it hosts, nor has it closed their bank accounts, which hold hundreds of millions of dollars used for terrorism,” the senior Israeli official asserted.

“Sinwar does not want a deal. He is not interested in the suffering of his people in Gaza,” the official continued. “He is waiting for tensions to increase and for there to be further escalation.”

The senior official also said Jerusalem has still not received any answer from Hamas to Israel’s latest hostage deal proposal after CNN reported earlier Friday that the terror organization had turned it down.

During a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, Biden pushed him to “fully empower” his negotiators to reach a deal.

US President Joe Biden speaks about the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge after it was struck by the container ship Dali, in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 5, 2024. (Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

White House officials have said negotiating a pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas to facilitate the exchange of hostages held in Gaza for Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel is the only way to put a temporary ceasefire into effect and boost the flow of badly needed humanitarian aid into the territory.

Stop-start talks have made no headway since a week-long truce in November, the only one since the start of the war on October 7, which saw the exchange of dozens of hostages held by Hamas in exchange for Palestinian security prisoners detained by Israel.

The Hamas side of the talks is indirect, with proposals relayed through third parties to Hamas leaders hiding in tunnels beneath Gaza.

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