Feb 9, 2024 - World

Israel rejects Hamas' hostage deal demands, but says still ready to negotiate

Relatives and supporters lift placards bearing portraits of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7

Relatives and supporters of Israeli hostages held in Gaza rally in Tel Aviv on Feb. 8. Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Israel told Egyptian and Qatari mediators late Thursday that while it rejects most of Hamas' demands in its response to the latest hostage deal proposal, it is ready to launch negotiations based on the original proposal put forth two weeks ago, according to two Israeli officials.

Why it matters: Israel's response shows it's not shutting the door on negotiating a new hostage deal, despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's strong public rebuke of Hamas' demands earlier this week.

Catch up quick: The proposed framework for negotiations over a three-phase deal was put forth after the Qatari prime minister met with CIA director Bill Burns and the spy chiefs of Israel and Egypt two weeks ago.

  • Under that framework, the first phase would include a six-week ceasefire and the release of a set number of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Hamas freeing 35 to 40 Israeli hostages, including women, men over the age of 60 and those with serious medical conditions, according to Israeli and Qatari officials.
  • The terms of the following two stages hadn't been agreed on but the second phase was expected to include the release of Israeli soldiers and civilian men under the age of 60 from captivity in Gaza.

Driving the news: Hamas' response to the proposal was delivered to Israel on Tuesday.

  • It listed several demands, including that Israel release thousands of Palestinian prisoners and end the war in Gaza, as well as several other demands that were not directly connected to Gaza, like negotiating the status-quo at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
  • Netanyahu said on Wednesday that caving to Hamas' "delusional" ceasefire demands won't lead to the release of the hostages still being held in Gaza, but instead to another attack by Hamas.

Behind the scenes: In its response to Hamas' demands, which was approved by the Israeli war cabinet Thursday night, Israel made clear to mediators that it won't agree to Hamas' call for Israel to pull its forces out of the "corridor" that splits the Gaza Strip and allow the return of civilians to northern Gaza during the first phase of the deal, according to an Israeli official.

  • Israel will, however, agree to discuss the redeployment of the IDF forces outside the big population centers in Gaza, the official said.

Israel also told the mediators that it rejects Hamas' demand to add the word, "permanent" or "final," to the clause in the proposal that talks about launching talks during the first phase of the deal on "restoring calm" in Gaza.

  • The official said that the main reason for this is that Israel doesn't want to commit to not resuming its strikes against Hamas after the deal is implemented.

Israel also made clear it would not discuss what Hamas referred to in its response as "lifting the siege over Gaza," the official said.

  • Israel stressed to the mediators that the number of Palestinian prisoners Hamas demands to be released for every Israeli hostage as part of the deal is not reasonable, according to the official.
  • Israel also said an annex Hamas added to its response that includes a long list of demands not directly connected to Gaza or to the hostages is unacceptable and irrelevant to the negotiations.
  • The Israeli Prime Minister's Office did not response to a request for comment.

State of play: A Hamas delegation held talks in Cairo on Thursday with senior Egyptian intelligence officials in order to discuss the hostage deal and find ways to move forward, according to statements made by Egyptian and Hamas officials.

  • Israeli officials said Israel rejected an invitation from Egypt to send a negotiation team to Cairo, saying there is no point in doing that at the moment considering Hamas' response and the big gaps between the parties.

Yes, but: Israeli negotiators are in constant talks with the mediators in order to try and close the gaps and reach a point that will allow holding serious proximity talks in Cairo between Israel and Hamas, an Israeli official said.

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