'The bottom line is Hamas needs to take that deal'

US accuses Hamas of being ‘obstacle’ to Gaza truce after it rejected Israel’s proposal

Terror group said to give mediators a new draft, claims it can only free 20 ‘humanitarian’ hostages, demands permanent end to war, return to north Gaza for displaced civilians

A protester holds a placard as relatives of hostages held in Gaza and their supporters block traffic outside of the US embassy, calling for the immediate release of all captives, Tel Aviv, April 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
A protester holds a placard as relatives of hostages held in Gaza and their supporters block traffic outside of the US embassy, calling for the immediate release of all captives, Tel Aviv, April 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

The United States on Monday accused Hamas of being the barrier to a temporary ceasefire in Gaza, adding that Israel had moved in a “significant way” to submit a reasonable proposal in the ongoing hostage talks.

“There’s a deal on the table that would achieve much of what Hamas claims it wants to achieve, and they have not taken that deal,” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a briefing.

The comments came after Hamas rejected the terms of last week’s Cairo proposal for a hostage-truce deal, and then presented US, Qatari, and Egyptian mediators with a counter-offer of its own. Neither the US-drafted Cairo proposal nor Hamas’s response has been published, and there have been multiple, sometimes contradictory reports, on their content.

“The bottom line is that they have rejected it, and if they did accept it, it would allow for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza of at least six weeks, which would benefit the Palestinian people whom they claim to represent. It would also allow us to continue improvements in the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” said Miller.

“The bottom line is Hamas needs to take that deal, and they need to explain to the world and to the Palestinian people why they aren’t taking it because it is Hamas right now that is the barrier and the obstacle to a ceasefire in Gaza,” he added.

A senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel that Hamas’s response to the latest hostage deal proposal rejected every single clause of the proposal crafted in Cairo.

The Hamas response demands that the release of Israeli hostages in the first stage of the deal be conditioned on negotiators providing guarantees that, in the second stage, Israel will agree to a permanent ceasefire, a complete IDF withdrawal from Gaza and the unrestricted return of Palestinians to the northern part of the enclave, the Israeli official said. Those three demands have all been non-starters for Jerusalem.

Hostage family members at protest marking six months since October 7 outside Knesset building in Jerusalem on April 7, 2024. (Paulina Patimer/Hostages and Missing Families Forum)

Hamas’s response also dramatically increases the number of Palestinian security prisoners it is demanding for every hostage it releases, as well as the number of murder convicts it wants freed.

The Israeli official said Hamas is now only willing to release in the first stage roughly 20 “humanitarian” hostages — women, men over 50, and those who are sick. The proposal crafted by Qatari, Egyptian and American mediators in Cairo envisioned Hamas releasing 40 hostages in those categories.

The terror group has claimed that it no longer has 40 living hostages in those categories. (An Israeli official was also quoted as telling the Walla news site that Hamas had used “ridiculous excuses” to explain the refusal to release 40 “humanitarian” hostages, claiming that many are either dead or not in its custody.)

Hamas also demands in its counter-offer that Israel agree to a six-week ceasefire before the terror group releases those first 20 or so hostages.

“Sinwar doesn’t want a deal. He doesn’t care if Gazans continue to suffer, even after extraordinary Israeli flexibility regarding all the parameters of the American proposal,” the Israeli official said.

Hamas and other terror groups are believed still to be holding 129 of the 253 hostages abducted during its October 7 massacre in southern Israel, not all of whom are alive, after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November.

The senior Israeli official’s comments echoed a rare statement from the Mossad issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday, which charged that Hamas’s rejection of the most recent proposal proved that Sinwar “is not interested in a humanitarian deal and in the return of the hostages, and continues to take advantage of tensions with Iran to try to unite the theaters and to achieve a general escalation in the region.”

Israel’s Mossad Director David Barnea speaks during the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) World Summit in the central coastal city of Herzliya on September 10, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP, File)

According to the Qatari-funded Al Jazeera, Hamas submitted its latest proposal to the mediators. As of this writing, Israel has not publicly commented on it.

Al Jazeera and Haaretz both reported that Hamas is demanding a permanent ceasefire at the very start of any hostage release process, during an initial 42-day truce, and that it would not release any hostages until the start of a second 42-day period.

Hamas, these reports said, is demanding the release of 30 Palestinian security prisoners for each civilian hostage — a tenfold increase from the three security prisoners who were freed for each civilian hostage in November’s deal. Israel would reportedly be required to release 50 Palestinian security prisoners per captive female soldier, of whom 30 would be prisoners serving life sentences.

The proposal is also believed to specify that during the initial, six-week phase, displaced Palestinians would be allowed to return unimpeded to northern Gaza, and the IDF would withdraw from all urban centers in the Strip.

Al Jazeera and Haaretz reported that Hamas claims that it would use the initial six-week phase to locate all the hostages and ascertain their condition.

Hamas has rejected all previous proposals and repeatedly conditioned any further hostage releases on Israel ending the war, withdrawing all IDF forces and allowing displaced northern Gazans to return to their homes — demands Israel has rejected as delusional.

Displaced Palestinians taking the coastal Rashid road as they attempt to return to Gaza City pass through Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip, on April 14, 2024. (AFP)

According to some reports, under its new proposal, Hamas would release elderly and sick hostages, civilian women and female soldiers in the course of the second 42-day phase. Those reports did not specify how many hostages this would amount to.

Israel would be required to complete the withdrawal of all IDF troops from Gaza as part of this second phase. The reports were not definitive as to whether the complete withdrawal would be required at the start or in the course of this phase.

In the third and final stage of Hamas’s reported proposal, the rehabilitation of the war-torn Gaza Strip would begin, and all captive male soldiers and men of military age would be released, as well as the bodies of those who have died or been killed in captivity or whose bodies were abducted on October 7.

The reports did not specify how many Palestinian security prisoners Israel would be required to release for each of the hostages in the final phase of the deal.

Hostages released by Hamas on the fourth day of the ceasefire with Israel are transferred to the Red Cross inside Gaza ahead of their return to Israel via Egypt, November 27, 2023. (Screenshot/File)

The war in Gaza erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, mostly civilians, many amid acts of brutality and sexual assault.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 34 of the 129 hostages still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also 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.

Most Popular
read more: