Indirect truce talks between Israel and Hamas to resume in Cairo

Netanyahu okays departure of delegation after negotiations in Qatar collapsed last week; Hamas official says terror group will wait to hear from Egyptians first

Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip and against the current Israeli government outside the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, March 30, 2024. (Itai Ron/Flash90)
Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip and against the current Israeli government outside the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, March 30, 2024. (Itai Ron/Flash90)

Truce talks between Israel and Hamas will resume on Sunday in Cairo, the latest attempt to bring about a pause after nearly six months of war in the Gaza Strip, Egypt’s Al Qahera News TV reported on Saturday, citing a security source.

An Israeli official told Reuters that Israel will send a delegation to Cairo on Sunday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday gave the Israeli delegation approval to resume indirect negotiations.

A Hamas official, however, told Reuters the group would wait to hear from Cairo mediators on the outcome of their talks with Israel first.

Haaretz on Saturday quoted an unnamed Israeli source who reiterated that the talks have been deadlocked because Hamas has refused to show any flexibility on its demand for all northern Gazans to be allowed to return and its conditioning of any further hostage releases on an Israeli commitment to ending the war and withdrawing all IDF forces from Gaza.

Israel has rejected both of these demands outright.

Last Monday, Hamas rejected compromises hammered out between Israel, Egypt, Qatar and the United States in Doha, prompting Jerusalem to recall most of its negotiating team.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on January 7, 2024. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

Israel will be sending Shin Bet and Mossad officials to conduct the negotiations in Cairo, an Israeli official said Friday, clarifying that Mossad chief David Barnea and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar are not expected to attend the talks, but may join subsequent consultations in Doha.

According to a statement from his office announcing the decision, Netanyahu gave the security chiefs “room to operate” in their negotiations.

Several news outlets reported that a small Mossad team remained in Qatar to continue talks.

Hamas had announced on Monday night that it had informed mediators that it has returned to its original demands for a permanent ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, a return of displaced Palestinians and a “real” exchange of “prisoners” — demands Israel has repeatedly rejected as delusional.

On Wednesday, Barnea reportedly informed the war cabinet that a hostage deal was still possible if Israel would be willing to be more lenient regarding the return of Gazans to their home in the northern part of the Strip. Israel has largely rejected the idea, as it seeks to prevent a resurgence of Hamas activity in areas that it has already cleared of the terror group.

Besides Barnea, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz and war cabinet observers Gadi Eisenkot and Ron Dermer supported the Mossad chief’s stance, according to Channel 12.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Mossad chief David Barnea at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on October 15, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi opposed Barnea’s approach, saying that now is not the time to be lenient in negotiations. Instead, the pair argued that the IDF should prepare for an invasion of Rafah, but do so quietly to afford the US an opportunity to broker a deal.

Netanyahu also rejected Barnea’s proposal and supported publicly declaring that the IDF was preparing to invade Rafah.

Another cabinet meeting on the matter was supposed to take place Friday, but ministers received word of Netanyahu’s decision via the media, where the premier was quoted as saying during a Thursday meeting with hostage families: “We’re preparing for Rafah, and I am handling the negotiations myself.”

The premier’s office issued a statement Friday night denying reports that he was in the minority in opposing the Mossad-Shin Bet-led negotiating team’s proposal to allow the unvetted return of Palestinians to northern Gaza.

Relatedly, the Axios news site reported that several hostage relatives at the Thursday meeting castigated Netanyahu for his treatment of them, asserting that US President Joe Biden has shown the abductees’ families more respect than he has.

A relative of one of the dual US-Israeli national hostages told Netanyahu that the White House embraces the hostage families, but more critically, keeps them informed regarding the status of negotiations — things the premier has largely failed to do, Axios said.

The relative reportedly implored Netanyahu not to further damage ties with the US, arguing that they are critical for securing a hostage deal.

Relatives, friends and supporters of 49-year-old Ohad Yahalomi and his 13-year-old son Eitan, held hostage in Gaza since the October 7 attack by Hamas militants in southern Israel, take part in a protest asking for the release of Israeli hostages in Tel Aviv on November 25, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

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

The compromise proposal Israel accepted on Sunday reportedly would have seen Jerusalem release twice as many Palestinian security prisoners as it had initially offered in exchange for 40 hostages — women, children, the sick and elderly — in the first phase of a 6-week truce deal.

According to a Channel 12 report, 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.

Some 130 hostages 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. Dozens of hostages were released under a previous truce deal in November, and some others were rescued by Israel.

The IDF has confirmed that at least 34 of the hostages are no longer alive.

Egypt, Qatar and the US have been trying to narrow differences between Israel and Hamas over what a ceasefire could look like, as the UN warns of a deepening humanitarian crisis, particularly in northern Gaza, where the roughly 300,000 people still living there could be facing imminent famine.

Jacob Magid contributed reporting.

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