Israel believes that Hamas has been dragging out hostage negotiations as a tactic to delay a ground offensive by the Israeli military into the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Friday.
The official said that despite leaks from Egyptian and Qatari officials over the past few days purporting significant progress in the talks to release a large number of hostages, no breakthroughs currently appear to be imminent.
During its shock terror assault on Israel on October 7, Hamas terrorists killed over 1,400 people, a majority of them civilians, during raids on over 20 border communities near the Gaza Strip, slaughtering entire families in their homes and some 260 at an outdoor music festival. Terrorists also took over 200 hostages, including women, children and elderly people, dragging them into the Gaza Strip where they remain captive.
The military said Friday that Israel has informed the families of 229 people, Israelis and dual nationals, who were taken hostage by Hamas and allies terrorist factions.
Hamas has released four hostages since its October 7 terror massacre, including an American-Israeli mother and daughter, and two elderly Israeli women, in a deal brokered by Qatar, which hosts both a US military base and Hamas’s political bureau.
The country is one of Hamas’s main backers, transferring hundreds of millions of dollars to the terror group annually.
Earlier Friday, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network reported that talks to release a large group of hostages were advancing and would include a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. The report cannot be verified or corroborated.
Separately, CNN also reported that negotiations were ongoing, citing diplomatic sources. “Negotiations are going very well,” the source told CNN. “There are issues still remaining, but talks are ongoing, and we remain hopeful.”
But in a briefing Friday evening, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari dismissed such reports, calling them rumors.
“I suggest not to pay attention to the rumors, this is psychological terror by Hamas,” he said. “Do not give in to its manipulations.
Israel has publicly insisted that the hostages must be released unconditionally. Hamas has reportedly been seeking the entry of fuel into Gaza, which Israel has banned, as well as the release of security prisoners from Israeli jails along with a ceasefire.
CNN also reported Friday that US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Barbara Leaf was in the Qatari capital Doha for meetings with Qatar’s leadership, citing a person familiar with the matter.
Her presence in Qatar came a day after the Washington Post reported that the US and Qatar have agreed to reevaluate the Gulf monarchy’s relationship with Hamas after Doha completes its role in freeing the hostages taken by the terror group.
The agreement was reached during a recent meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and is an attempt by Washington to balance its short-term objective of freeing as many hostages as possible against the long-term strategy of choking off Hamas’s support, the report said.
On Friday, Ynet reported that Qatari Ambassador to the US Meshal bin Hamad al Thani has spoken with an Israeli man whose wife and three children are being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza.
Avichai Brodutch, who has been staging a one-man vigil outside Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, thanked the envoy for Qatar’s efforts to free the hostages, according to the report.
Brodutch is the bereft husband of Hagar, 40, and father of Ofri, 10, Yuval, 8 and Uriah, 4 who disappeared along with Avigayil Idan, whose parents Roee and Smadar Idan were murdered on October 7 in Kibbutz Kfar Aza. He’s been holding a vigil across the street from Israeli army headquarters in Tel Aviv since.
Brodutch reportedly asked al Thani to keep up the intensive contact to free his family and the 30-odd other children kidnapped by terrorists on October 7, Ynet said.
The talks were the first known contact between Qatar and Israeli civilians seeking the return of their loved ones.
Reports indicate that the Israeli point man on the issue, Gal Hirsch, has been largely sidelined.
There has been no confirmation of the talks from Qatar.
On Thursday, the families of the hostages held a press conference to protest what they charged was government inaction and failure to update them on the efforts to secure the release of their loved ones.
They warned that their patience had run out.