Talks 'very difficult,' Hamas making tough demands - report

Israeli delegation reportedly in Cairo to discuss possible hostage deal

Talks come amid mixed reports on Hamas stance: Sinwar said to withdraw demand for permanent truce, while group’s leaders said split on its role after war

Protesters lift protraits of hostage Naama Levy during a rally for supporters and relatives of Israelis held in Gaza since October 7, in Tel Aviv on December 23, 2023. (Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)
Protesters lift protraits of hostage Naama Levy during a rally for supporters and relatives of Israelis held in Gaza since October 7, in Tel Aviv on December 23, 2023. (Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

An Israeli delegation has landed in Cairo to discuss a potential hostage and ceasefire deal with the Hamas terror group, according to a report Monday.

Citing unidentified sources with knowledge of the matter, the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat reiterated reports that the deal on the table would see the release of some 40 Israeli hostages in exchange for several hundred Palestinian prisoners and a weeks-long truce in the Strip.

There was no outside confirmation of the claim, which came amid conflicting reports about Hamas’s willingness to sign a deal with Israel without a permanent end to the war.

An unnamed Israeli security official told the Ynet news site: “As long as Hamas demands the withdrawal of our forces and a complete ceasefire, there will not be a deal and we won’t enter talks with them.”

It is believed that 129 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 23 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

Hamas is also holding two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, respectively, as well as the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014.

File: Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, greets his supporters upon his arrival at a meeting in a hall on the sea side of Gaza City, on April 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

According to an unsourced Channel 12 report, Hamas’s Gaza ruler, Yahya Sinwar, has eased his terms for a deal, withdrawing his demand for a permanent ceasefire.

The terror leader is also reportedly demanding that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accept Hamas and other Gazan terror groups into the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and that PA elections be held.

The network also reported that the negotiations with Hamas are “very difficult,” with Hamas making exorbitant demands that Israel will find it difficult to accept. It cited top officials who said the efforts to reach a deal are unlikely to bear fruit soon.

Earlier, a Hamas source told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news outlet that the terror group would not agree to release the hostages held in Gaza before there is a complete cessation of fighting.

Meanwhile, the Jewish News Syndicate reported that views on the future of Hamas among the terror group’s leaders are split between a “Qatari camp,” composed of senior officials Khaled Mashaal and Moussa Abu Marzouk, and Sinwar and Saleh al-Arouri, who are in the “Iranian camp,” citing an unnamed Arab source involved in negotiations between Hamas, the PA and Arab countries.

According to the report, leaders understand that Hamas will not retain power in the Strip after the war. However, those in the Qatari camp “express a great willingness to join the PLO and now it remains mainly to conclude the conditions for this,” while Sinwar is strongly against such a move, and is “furious with his colleagues.”

“It is clear that Hamas internalizes the fact that it will have to give up its rule in the Gaza Strip and even hand over the keys to a new and different Palestinian entity that will be based mainly on the Palestine Liberation Organization,” the source was quoted as saying, stressing this view has mainly been adopted by the “Qatari group.”

Last week, reports claimed that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad had both rejected an Egyptian proposal that would see Hamas give up control of the Strip in return for a permanent ceasefire.

“Sinwar forbids any discussion of the question of the day after that does not take place with his consent or in his presence,” the Arab source told JNS.

Israel vowed to eliminate the terror group after October 7, when Hamas-led terrorists massacred 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped some 240 people to Gaza. However, the government has yet to present a clear plan on who will rule the Strip after Hamas is defeated.

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