Israel-Hamas Talks Over Hostage Releases and a Cease-Fire Stall

Talks between Israel and Hamas over the release of dozens of Israeli hostages held in Gaza have stalled, dimming hopes that an agreement can be reached in a few days before the start of Ramadan, according to several people briefed on the talks have been informed.

Negotiators had discussed a proposal for an initial six-week ceasefire in which Hamas would release about 40 people — including women, elderly and sick hostages, and five female Israeli soldiers — for a significant number of Palestinian prisoners.

The discussions included conditions for the release of at least 15 prisoners convicted of serious terrorist acts who would be exchanged for female soldiers. The terms also stated that Israel would release hundreds of other prisoners or prisoners, with an average of 10 Palestinians for every Israeli citizen released, officials said.

US officials had said they hoped to reach an agreement to release some hostages and impose a temporary pause in the fighting before Ramadan, which is expected to start this Sunday. President Biden expressed confidence last week that a deal was within reach.

But in recent days, Hamas has backed away from the proposed deal and made demands that Israel has refused to meet, according to officials briefed on the talks. The negotiations took place in Doha, Qatar, before moving to Cairo in recent days.

John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Wednesday that while the United States was disappointed that an agreement had not been reached, negotiators were still confident in the parameters of the deal they had helped negotiate.

“It’s just a matter of getting Hamas to sign up,” he said.

Hamas, Mr. Kirby said, was making proposals and counter-proposals, and working with the other parties to develop the framework of the agreement.

“There has been a lot of back and forth on the details, but the fact that we are not there yet is an indication that the details are still not all worked out,” he said.

An official in the region said the main point of difference is the same one that has hovered over the talks for weeks: Hamas wants Israel to now commit to a permanent ceasefire during or after three phases of hostage releases, while Israel refuses to do so to do. So. Israel wants to focus solely on an agreement on the terms of the first phase, a position that the United States supports. Until now, discussions surrounding the first phase have focused on the possible release of those 40 people, out of about 100 remaining hostages.

The Israeli delegation did not attend the hearings in Cairo because of Hamas’s new demands. Israeli officials said they believed a broad consensus on the first phase of the deal had been reached, after which Hamas renewed its push for broader demands.

In addition to the permanent ceasefire, Hamas is also calling for a withdrawal of Israeli forces from northern Gaza after the third phase of hostage releases and for more aid to Gaza, with a guarantee that half will go to northern Gaza going, the official in the region said. . These demands could be worked out between the Israeli government and Hamas, officials said.

The people briefed on the talks in Egypt declined to be identified by name or nationality, citing the fragile nature of the negotiations. A Hamas official did not respond to a request for comment.

The United States had pushed for an agreement to be reached before Ramadan, fearing the situation could become more difficult during the holy month of fasting. Frustration and tempers could then flare, making an agreement much harder to reach, U.S. officials said.

US officials continue to push for a deal. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met in Washington with Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet who could ultimately challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for office.

After the meeting, the State Department’s chief spokesman, Matthew Miller, said in a statement that Mr. Blinken “underscored the importance of reaching an agreement to secure the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, which would lead to a temporary ceasefire and allow additional humanitarian aid to enter Gaza.”

The same day, Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani of Qatar, the top Qatari negotiator in the hostage talks, spoke separately with Mr Blinken in Washington at a previously scheduled meeting on common strategic issues. Both men told reporters it was important to try to release hostages and broker some form of ceasefire.

Qatar and Egypt have submitted proposals to Hamas’s political and military leaders. The United States has been trying to draw up broad proposals to restart talks after encountering several roadblocks following an initial seven-day pause in November during which Hamas released about 100 hostages, mostly civilians.

People familiar with the negotiations believe that Hamas has made new demands for several reasons.

On February 28, Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas political leader based in Qatar, publicly called for a Ramadan march in Jerusalem to the Al Aqsa Mosque, known to Jews as the Temple Mount. Some Israeli officials believe Hamas’ military wing wants the protests to turn violent. Hamas may want to avoid a ceasefire for fear of being accused of violating it if protests turn violent.

According to people briefed on the talks, Hamas believes an action at the mosque will demonstrate its strength despite Israel’s months-long military campaign in Gaza and could increase pressure on Netanyahu to end the fighting.

But Hamas may have made new demands during the negotiations for another reason.

Last Thursday, Israeli forces opened fire in Gaza as a crowd gathered near a long convoy of aid trucks. The chaotic scene led to more than 100 deaths.

US officials sharply criticized Israel’s handling of the convoy and its failure to provide security to the desperate Palestinian people.

Some officials briefed on the talks say Hamas leaders may believe the deaths surrounding the humanitarian convoy have strengthened their position in the negotiations and weakened Israel’s international standing.

Adam Ragon contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

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