Qatari PM: Hostage deal shouldn’t be condition for truce, talks ‘not very promising’

Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani suggests sides should halt fighting regardless of captives’ release, which Israel has repeatedly indicated will not happen

Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani speaks during a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (not pictured) as part of Blinken's weeklong trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East, in Doha on January 7, 2024. (Karim Jaafar/AFP)
Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani speaks during a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (not pictured) as part of Blinken's weeklong trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East, in Doha on January 7, 2024. (Karim Jaafar/AFP)

Qatar’s prime minister said Saturday that a truce deal between Israel and Hamas “should not be conditioned” on an agreement for the release of hostages.

“This is the dilemma that we’ve been in and unfortunately that’s been misused by a lot of countries, that in order to get a ceasefire, it’s conditional to have the hostage deal. It shouldn’t be conditioned,” Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told the Munich Security Conference.

The comments were striking for the head of a country that has been a key mediator between the sides. While Hamas wants a ceasefire to shore up its forces and potentially lead to an end to the war, Israel has repeatedly made clear it sees no reason for a truce other than the release of hostages, and that while it may agree to a pause it does not plan to stop fully fighting until Hamas is dismantled.

Talks involving officials from Qatar, Egypt, Israel and the United States have so far not yielded another deal for a pause in the fighting.

Al-Thani also said talks had been “not really very promising” in recent days.

“I believe that we can see a deal happening very soon. Yet the pattern in the last few days is not really very promising.”

But “we will always remain optimistic, we will always remain pushing.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog also spoke at the conference and appeared to reject the Qatari premier’s comment.

“If one wants to move on and find a horizon and end this dire situation, which was initiated by Hamas in cruelty of unprecedented record… one has to resolve the issue of the hostages and bring them back home safely and as soon as possible,” the president said.

The president also reveals Israeli forces operating in Gaza found a book titled “The End of the Jews” that was written by Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder of the Hamas terror group.

“This book first of all says we should not recognize the fact that there are Jews and Jewish people, but most predominantly it hails the Holocaust. It hails what the Nazis have done, and calls for nations to follow what the Nazis have done,” Herzog said, noting Munich’s proximity to the Dachau concentration camp.

This handout photo shows President Isaac Herzog holding a copy of ‘The End of the Jews’ by Hamas cofounder Mahmoud al-Zahar, at the Munich Security Conference on February 17, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Herzog also confirmed meeting on Friday with Al-Thani, whom he says is making “major efforts” toward the return of the hostages.

“It’s complicated, it’s difficult,” Herzog said. “After all, you’re dealing with people who are being hidden and scattered all around Gaza, mostly in the tunnels and we have to know their whereabouts,” said the president.

It is believed that 130 hostages abducted during Hamas’s deadly October 7 attack remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 30 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas has also been holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as 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.

Al-Thani, who is also foreign minister, said he could not go into the details of negotiations, but as with past deals, there were two elements — the humanitarian conditions in Gaza and the number of Palestinian prisoners who would be released in exchange for the hostages abducted from Israel being held by Hamas.

“I believe in this agreement we are talking at a bigger scale and we still see some difficulties on the humanitarian part of these negotiations,” he said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani shake hands after their joint press conference at Diwan Annex, in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool)

He added that he thought if there is progress in negotiations on the humanitarian element of any deal, then the obstacle over the numbers of those released would be ultimately tackled.

Meanwhile, Hamas on Saturday threatened to suspend hostage talks unless urgent aid was brought into the north of the Strip, where aid agencies have warned of a looming famine.

“Negotiations cannot be held while hunger is ravaging the Palestinian people,” a senior source in the Palestinian terror group told AFP, asking not to be identified as he is not authorized to speak on the issue.

And Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh blamed Israel for the lack of progress, adding that Hamas “will not accept anything less than a complete cessation of the aggression, withdrawal of the occupation army from Gaza and lifting of the unjust siege.”

This handout picture provided by the Iranian foreign ministry on February 13, 2024, shows Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian (R) meeting with Hamas’s political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh in Doha. (Photo by Iranian Foreign Ministry / AFP)

Israel has said those are non-starters, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called Hamas’s demands “delusional.”

On Saturday Netanyahu said his policy was “strong military pressure and tough negotiations.”

He told reporters at a briefing that Hamas’s demands remain “delusional,” and that accepting them would spell defeat for Israel. “Obviously, we won’t agree to them.”

“When Hamas gives up on those delusional demands, we can make progress,” he said.

He said Israel’s military pressure “is working” in Gaza, with most Hamas battalions destroyed. “We won’t stop until they are all destroyed,” he said.

The Hamas leadership is on the run, and running out of places to hide, he asserted. “The day is near” when the Hamas leaders will have nowhere left to escape, he stated. “It’s only a matter of time.”

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