Israeli officials: Hamas is signaling rejection of latest hostage deal proposals

Sources speaking to Hebrew media indicate growing pessimism; Haniyeh meets Qatari emir, accuses Israel of stalling talks; another Hamas official says IDF must withdraw from Gaza

Pictures of hostages held by terror groups in Gaza since October 7, in Tel Aviv, February 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Pictures of hostages held by terror groups in Gaza since October 7, in Tel Aviv, February 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Multiple reports in Hebrew media Monday indicated mounting pessimism among senior Israeli officials regarding the prospects of a hostage release deal with Hamas, as the terror group appeared to signal it would not accept the latest proposal, following talks between Israel and international mediators.

Channels 12, 13 and Kan news all quoted senior officials as saying that Israel had been told that the framework worked out in Paris by Israel, American, Egyptian and Qatari mediators on Friday “doesn’t correspond with Hamas demands.” Channel 12 said Hamas leaders abroad had indicated there were “red lines” the proposal crossed that they would not accept.

Hamas has yet to present an official response to the Paris proposal.

The Paris framework reportedly involves Hamas releasing 40 hostages including, women, children, female soldiers, and elderly and ill abductees in exchange for a six-week pause in fighting and Israel releasing hundreds of Palestinian terror convicts.

A key sticking point appears to be Israel’s insistence that any temporary truce deal will not guarantee an end to the war, while Hamas demands just that. Jerusalem has vowed not to halt its efforts until it has dismantled the terror group in Gaza. It vowed to destroy the terror group after the October 7 massacres that sparked the war.

An Israeli delegation headed to Doha on Monday, where Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani separately met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.

The presence of both sides for so-called proximity talks — meeting mediators separately while in the same city — suggested negotiations were further along than at any time since a big push at the start of February, when Israel rejected a Hamas counteroffer for a four-and-a-half-month truce which also called for a move toward a permanent ceasefire.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at Lusail Palace, in Doha, Qatar, February 6, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool)

After meeting Qatar’s emir, Haniyeh said his group had embraced mediators’ efforts to find an end to the war, and accused Israel of stalling while Gazans die under siege.

“We will not allow the enemy to use negotiations as a cover for this crime,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was ready for a deal, and it was now up to Hamas to drop demands he described as “outlandish” and “from another planet.”

“Obviously, we want this deal if we can have it. It depends on Hamas. It’s really now their decision,” he told US network Fox News in an interview on Monday. “They have to come down to reality.”

The office of Qatar’s emir said Al Thani and the Hamas chief had discussed Qatar’s efforts to broker an “immediate and permanent ceasefire agreement in the Gaza Strip.”

During the meeting, Al Thani underscored “the State of Qatar’s unwavering support for the Palestinian people” and “its right to establish their independent state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital,” according to a report in the local Gulf Times paper.

Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (R), ruler of Qatar since 2013, in a meeting with Hamas politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) and official Khaled Mashal in Doha, October 17, 2016 (Qatar government handout)

Qatar is considered one of the main state sponsors of Hamas, as it hosts some of its top leaders, including Haniyeh himself, and has donated billions of dollars over the years to Hamas in Gaza.

It has also played a prominent role in negotiations between the terror group and Israel for the release of the hostages kidnapped to Gaza on October 7.

Earlier, a source told Reuters that an Israeli working delegation, made up of staff from the military and the Mossad spy agency, had flown to Qatar, tasked with creating an operational center to support negotiations there. Its mission would include vetting proposed Palestinian security prisoners that Hamas wants freed as part of a hostage release deal, the source said.

Ronen Bar, head of the Shin Bet security services, left, with Mossad chief David Barnea at the annual IDF memorial ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War at Yad La-Shiryon, September 27, 2023. (Jonathan Shaul/Flash90)

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri, speaking to Reuters on Monday, said any ceasefire agreement would require “securing an end to the aggression, the withdrawal of the occupation, the returning of the displaced, the entry of aid, shelter equipment, and rebuilding.”

Channel 12 on Monday quoted Mossad director David Barnea as telling the cabinet that if Israel does not manage to significantly increase the amount of humanitarian aid flowing into Gaza, the possibility of a deal would be destroyed.

United Nations agencies and aid groups have said the ongoing war has made it increasingly difficult to bring vital aid to much of the coastal enclave.

The war in Gaza began after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, which saw thousands of terrorists rampage through southern Israeli communities, slaughtering some 1,200 people, and kidnapping 253, mostly civilians.

An aerial picture from October 10, 2023, shows the abandoned site of the October 7, 2023, assault by Hamas terrorists on the Supernova music festival near Kibbutz Re’im in the Negev desert, southern Israel. Some 360 people were slaughtered at the outdoor event, among 1,200 people murdered by the terrorists that day in southern Israel. (Jack Guez/AFP)

It is believed that 130 of the hostages 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 before that, and three were rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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