Gallant: We won't stop fighting until Hamas dismantled

Israel won’t send team to Cairo, said to believe Sinwar seeks escalation on Ramadan

Hamas refuses to provide list of living hostages, still reportedly insisting on end of war as condition for hostage deal

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Family and supporters of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza call for their release, in Paris Square in Jerusalem, March 2, 2024 (Eilat Markovitch / Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)
Family and supporters of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza call for their release, in Paris Square in Jerusalem, March 2, 2024 (Eilat Markovitch / Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

Israel will not be sending a negotiating team to Cairo, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Sunday, after receiving an unsatisfactory response from Hamas on the latest framework for a hostage deal hammered out in Paris last weekend.

The Gaza-based terror organization refused to address Jerusalem’s demand to provide a list of living hostages and to lock down how many Palestinian prisoners Israel must release for every hostage freed, added the official.

Hamas’s position was conveyed to Israel through Qatar.

According to Channel 12, the war cabinet and the professional echelon all agreed that there was no point in sending a delegation to Egypt for ongoing talks given Hamas’s response.

Several Hebrew media outlets reported growing pessimism in Israel on Sunday that a hostage and truce deal can be reached before Ramadan. Unnamed officials cited by Channel 12, Ynet and others said Jerusalem suspects Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar has no intention of reaching an agreement in the coming days and hopes to escalate violence over Ramadan, which is expected to start March 10.

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.

The Axios news site reported Sunday that US President Joe Biden was pushing Egypt and Qatar to get Hamas to agree to a temporary ceasefire deal before Ramadan.

Two US officials quoted in the report said that Biden, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi “agreed the onus is currently on Hamas to close remaining gaps in the package.”

“We still hope we can get a deal by Ramadan. The ball is in Hamas’s court,” one of the senior US officials was quoted as saying.

An Israeli official also quoted by Axios put the chances of a deal being reached “at 50-50.”

Israel has said that 31 of the 130 hostages held since October 7 are dead. The first phase of the mooted deal is reported to provide for the release of 40 of the living hostages, including women, children, the elderly and the sick, in the course of a six-week truce, and in exchange for some 400 Palestinian security prisoners. The outline reportedly provides for negotiations on the further phased release of the remaining hostages, living and dead, in return for longer pauses in the fighting and many more Palestinian prisoner releases.

On Sunday afternoon, a Hamas official told CNN that the group will not agree to a deal without Israel consenting to an end to the war in Gaza, a non-starter for Israel.

Citing “a highly placed source” in the terror group, CNN reported that the two other areas of disagreement holding up a deal are the withdrawal of IDF troops from Gaza, and Gazan civilians being allowed to return to the northern Gaza Strip.

Family and supporters of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza complete the final leg of a four-day march from the Israel-Gaza border to Jerusalem, March 2, 2024 (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Speaking to troops of the 98th Division on the Gaza border on Sunday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel will not end the war in until Hamas is completely dismantled.

“There is no one to help the terrorists, it’s only a matter of our decision of what we take care of first and what second,” he said. “We will not end this war without eliminating Hamas. There will be no such situation. There will be no Hamas as a ruling organization. It will take the time it takes.”

Earlier in the day, a senior Hamas official had claimed that a ceasefire in Gaza could be secured within “24 to 48 hours” if Israel were to accept the terror group’s demands in ongoing talks.

“If Israel agrees to Hamas demands, which include the return of displaced Palestinians to northern Gaza and increasing humanitarian aid, that would pave the way for an agreement within the next 24 to 48 hours,” the unnamed Hamas official told AFP, as a delegation of its officials arrived in Cairo for talks.

The official added that Hamas had demanded the entry of “at least 400 to 500 trucks per day” carrying food, medicine and fuel as part of a truce deal.

The Hamas official’s claim that Israel is the party responsible for delaying the elusive deal contradicted comments by a senior US official, who said on Saturday that Israel had agreed to the framework for a six-week pause in fighting, which now depended on Hamas agreeing to release the hostages.

Despite charging that Israel’s unwillingness to accept the terror group’s demands was the reason a deal hasn’t progressed, a Hamas official told the UK-based Qatari outlet Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that it will not provide any further details on the hostages without Israel paying a “big price” for it.

“A big price must be paid in terms of alleviating the suffering of the people of Gaza and establishing a ceasefire,” he told the news outlet, signaling that the group was not prepared to accede to the demand.

This combination of pictures created on February 13, 2024 shows (L to R) CIA Director William Burns, Mossad Director David Barnea, and Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani. (AFP)

The Hamas delegation to Cairo is being led by senior leader Khalil al-Haya, an unnamed source told AFP.

“The delegation will meet Egyptian mediators and deliver the group’s response to the new Paris proposal,” the source said, in reference to negotiations held last month in the French capital with Israel’s presence.

Also said to be in attendance are delegations from the United States and Qatar.

Hopes of a successful deal as a result of the ongoing negotiations rose last week following a previous round of talks mediated by Qatar and Egypt in Doha, and cautious indications from Biden that an agreement was close. On Friday, however, Biden acknowledged that a deal remains elusive for now, but said he still hopes it will be finalized by Ramadan.

Hamas has not backed away from its position that a temporary truce must be the start of a process towards ending the war altogether, Egyptian sources and a Hamas official said Saturday. Israel has said it will not accept such terms.

Activists take part in a rally calling for the return of the hostages, in downtown Jerusalem, March 2, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Should a deal be reached, it would be the second of its kind since the terror onslaught carried out by Hamas in southern Israel on October 7. The first was a weeklong truce in late November that brought about the release of 105 civilians from Hamas captivity in exchange for 240 Palestinian security prisoners.

It is believed that 130 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after the November truce and the recovery of several other hostages and bodies.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said on Sunday that the death toll in the war had surpassed 30,400 people, with an additional 71,700 people having been injured.

The terror group’s figures are unverified, do not differentiate between civilians and combatants, and list all the fatalities as caused by Israel — even those believed to have been caused by hundreds of misfired rockets or otherwise by Palestinian fire.

Israel has said it killed an estimated 13,000 Hamas members in Gaza fighting, in addition to some 1,000 killed in Israel in the aftermath of the terror group’s invasion and massacre of more than 1,200 people.

On Sunday, the IDF said that it had carried out a wave of airstrikes against some 50 Hamas targets in western Khan Younis within just six minutes overnight to enable ground troops of the 98th Division to maneuver into new areas of the city in the southern Gaza Strip.

Agencies and Emmanuel Fabian contributed to this report

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