US official stresses Yahya Sinwar is calling the shots for Hamas in hostage talks

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Yahya Sinwar, Hamas's Gaza Strip chief, waves to supporters in Gaza City, on April 14, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Yahya Sinwar, Hamas's Gaza Strip chief, waves to supporters in Gaza City, on April 14, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

There have been times throughout the negotiations when significant progress was made with Hamas’s leaders “living in fancy hotels,” before the terror group’s Gaza leader ultimately rejected what had been agreed to, a US senior administration official tells reporters.

“Sinwar is the ultimate decision maker… and Sinwar is living deep, deep underground, as Gaza above him is a warzone and as Gazans are suffering,” the official says in a briefing. “The question goes to him of whether he’ll agree to release the vulnerable category of hostages to secure ceasefire and relief for Gazans, and the answer that comes back from Sinwar personally, is ‘No.'”

“Sinwar has made the decision he’d rather hold [Hersh Goldberg-Polin] and others rather than securing a ceasefire in Gaza,” the senior Biden administration official says.

He acknowledges that there have been times in the negotiations where Israel has been less cooperative, but in the last call US President Joe Biden had with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli premier “fully agreed” to the proposal now on the table.

“Right now, the core truth is that there’s a deal on the table that meets nearly all of the demands that Hamas has had,” the official says.

“The view of the Egyptians and the Qataris and those who are fairly deeply involved is that the answer that came back from inside Gaza was totally not constructive.”

The official adds that Hamas has sent “signals” seeking to clarify that it has not actually rejected the latest offer and that it is ready to sit down and negotiate further, but he is unsure whether that is genuine or whether the terror group is just trying to drag things out further. “We’re going to test that proposition over the coming days.”

“We do see some indications that there might be an avenue here, but I’m not totally confident because a lot of times we hear things from leaders of Hamas outside Gaza that do not reflect the Hamas leadership inside,” the senior administration official says, adding that even Hamas’s leaders abroad acknowledge that Sinwar is the only decisionmaker for the terror group.

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