Netanyahu downplays talk of hostage deal after Biden says he believes it’ll happen

‘When we have something to report, we will,’ PM says, shortly after US president sends hopeful message and tells families: ‘Hang in there, we’re coming’

File: Pictures of civilians held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Jerusalem, November 14, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)
File: Pictures of civilians held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Jerusalem, November 14, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that information about any deal for the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza will be made public “if and when” there are concrete developments, appearing to downplay remarks made a short while earlier by US President Joe Biden, saying he believed a hostage deal will happen soon.

Meanwhile, several media outlets reported that the head of the Shin Bet security service, Ronen Bar, had traveled to Cairo and met Egypt’s Intelligence Minister Abbas Kamel to discuss a potentially emerging deal to free some of the 240 hostages.

A source involved in the talks told the Kan public broadcaster that the sides were the “closest” they have been to a deal.

Additionally, the American ABC network cited an unnamed senior Israeli political source saying Tuesday that progress had been made and a “breakthrough could come in the next 48-72 hours.”

Netanyahu, in a statement issued by his office, expressed support for the hostages and their relatives, emphasizing efforts to free the captives.

“Our hearts are with all the hostages and their families,” he said in a statement. “Since the beginning of the war, we have been working ceaselessly for the release of our captives, including the exertion of increasing pressure since the beginning of the ground operation,” he added.

“If and when there will be something concrete to report, we will do so.”

The last sentence was possibly meant to counter the impression given by the remark from Biden, who was asked at the end of a press conference what his message was to the families of those held by terrorists in Gaza.

“Hang in there, we’re coming,” he replied.

“I’ve been talking to the people involved every single day. I believe it’s going to happen, but I don’t want to get into any detail,” Biden added.

Hamas-led terrorists took the hostages during their devastating October 7 attack on Israel, in which they killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians butchered in their homes and at a music festival. Israel then declared war with the aim of toppling the terror group’s regime in Gaza, which it has ruled since taking over in 2007.

There have been numerous reports over the last three weeks that a deal to free at least some of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza is imminent, but such a deal has yet to materialize.

White House Middle East czar Brett McGurk arrived in Brussels Tuesday, kicking off a regional tour in which he was expected to discuss efforts to release the hostages.

A high-ranking Israeli official told The Washington Post Monday that a potential deal with Hamas that would see the terror group release some 70 women and children it is holding in the Gaza Strip is nearing completion and could be announced within days. Multiple reports in recent days have included similar details.

The deal would see the release of female and underage Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli prisons, as well as a five-day ceasefire.

Senior diplomatic officials told the Ynet news site that a ceasefire in the ongoing war would only be agreed to with Hamas in exchange for a large number of hostages.

“We will not fall for Hamas’s strategy of a war for survival and desire for repeated ceasefires so that it can reorganize. We will not risk our soldiers in the field,” the officials said.

File: Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ziad Nakhaleh speaks in a televised address, August 25, 2022. (Screengrab/Twitter)

Also Tuesday, the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group threatened to bolt the ongoing hostage negotiations and wait for “better conditions” before moving forward.

The terror group is believed to be holding as many as 40 of the hostages. Hamas is believed to be holding some 180 hostages, and unaffiliated mob families are believed to hold an additional 20, complicating Qatar-led negotiations significantly.

PIJ’s Ziad Nakhaleh said that “the conduct of negotiations with regard to the hostages that we detain and Israel’s reactions will probably push the Islamic Jihad out of the deal.”

“Islamic Jihad can keep its hostages [while waiting] for better conditions,” he added.

Biden on Sunday discussed efforts to secure the release of the hostages held in Gaza during a phone call with Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Biden “condemned unequivocally the holding of hostages by Hamas, including many young children, one of whom is a 3-year old American citizen toddler, whose parents were killed by Hamas on October 7,” the White House said, highlighting the specific plight of a young American hostage, Abigail Edan, for what appears to be the first time.

Biden also expressed his appreciation to Qatar for its efforts in mediating the release of four hostages last month, two of whom were US citizens, the White House said.

Aside from those four, one captured soldier was rescued by Israeli security forces.

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