Updated Dec 2, 2023 - World

How the Gaza ceasefire collapsed

An International Red Cross vehicle reportedly carrying hostages released by Hamas crosses the Rafah border point in the Gaza Strip towards Egypt on Nov. 24. Photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters hand over newly released hostages to the Red Cross in Rafah. Photo: Picture aAliance via Getty Images)

Three Israeli officials told Axios the negotiations over the extension of the Gaza ceasefire collapsed on Friday after Hamas refused to free 10 Israeli women, and instead, offered to begin discussing the release of elderly men. Hamas has blamed Israel for the breakdown of the ceasefire.

The latest: Israel's Mossad intelligence agency called back its team from Qatar on Saturday as a result of the collapse of the hostage negotiations. In a statement, the Mossad accused Hamas of not implementing its commitments in the agreement.

Why it matters: The collapse of the ceasefire and resumption of the fighting on Friday morning could quickly lead to Israel expanding its ground operation in Gaza to the southern city of Khan Younis.

  • U.S. officials have expressed concerns that an Israeli operation in the southern part of Gaza could lead to significantly more civilian casualties and deepen the humanitarian crisis.

Driving the news: According to the ceasefire agreement, Hamas committed to releasing all the women and children it was holding hostage in exchange for a pause in fighting for up to nine days. More than 80 women and children were released over the last week as part of this process.

Yes, but: In the hours leading to the end of the pause, Hamas did not send a list of hostages it would release, the three Israeli officials said.

  • Instead, Hamas sent messages through Qatari and Egyptian mediators proposing to start a discussion on what concessions Israel would be willing to give in return for the release of elderly men, the officials added.

Behind the scenes: The Israeli officials said Israel made it clear to the mediators that it knows Hamas still has several women in its custody and that it would not discuss future deals before all the women were released.

  • Mossad chief David Barnea, the lead negotiator on the Israeli side, sent a message to Hamas through the mediators on Thursday night that stressed Israel was "not playing games" and that if the women were not released, the fighting would resume, a senior Israeli official said.
  • Not long after that Hamas launched a rocket from Gaza for the first time since the pause started. An hour later the ceasefire completely broke down.
  • The U.S. has also publicly blamed Hamas for the collapse of the ceasefire.

The other side: Hamas official Osama Hamdan told Al-Araby news channel that Israel was responsible for the failure. He said that the women Israel proposed to be released included female IDF soldiers.

  • Hamdan added that Israel refused any other offer made.
  • Hamas in a statement said it had offered to release elderly men and two Israeli hostages, as well as the bodies of hostages it said were killed during Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.
  • The bodies included a mother and her two children, the statement added. Hamas said it offered to release the father of the children so that he could attend their funeral.

Between the lines: Two senior Israeli officials said Israel believes Hamas didn't want to release all the women because it sees them as a bargaining chip.

State of play: Hostage negotiations are continuing, with the focus on what it would take to secure the release of men and military reservists, according to a source briefed on the discussions.

  • The U.S. is trying to broaden out the negotiations to include the possible releases of elderly civilian men that Hamas is holding as well as female IDF reservists, the source said.
  • Qatar continues to be at the center of these talks.

What to watch: Senior Israeli officials said they expect the hostage negotiations to continue "under fire."

  • They also stressed that Israel will exert military pressure on Hamas to release the hostages.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

Go deeper