Gaza’s Islamist rulers are demanding Israel release more terrorists in exchange for each remaining hostage.
Akiva Van Koningsveld
The Hamas terrorist organization is expected to turn down an offer for a hostages-for-ceasefire deal with Israel along the lines of the previous agreement, which saw over 100 captives being freed in November, the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel reported on Sunday night.
As part of that deal, Israel released hundreds of female and teenage Palestinian security prisoners, in addition to pausing its military campaign in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas is demanding that Israel release more terrorists in exchange for each of the remaining hostages. Hamas is reportedly also demanding that Israel free terrorists who participated in the terrorist group’s Oct. 7 massacre of some 1,200 people in southern Israel.
According to Israel’s Kan News public broadcaster, Hamas is also seeking guarantees for the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces and a total end to the war in Gaza—a stance that is incompatible with Israel’s stated goal of destroying the terror group.
On Thursday, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry claimed that Doha had received an “initial positive confirmation” from Hamas. “Israel agreed to the ceasefire proposal, and we have initial positive confirmation from Hamas,” Al Jazeera cited spokesman Majed al-Ansari as saying.
The Israeli War Cabinet convened at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Sunday night ahead of Hamas’s expected response.
“The efforts to free the hostages are continuing at all times,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told journalists earlier on Sunday. “However, we will not agree to every deal, and not at any price.”
“Many things that are being said in the media as if we had agreed to them, such as regarding the release of terrorists; we will simply not agree to them,” Netanyahu said ahead of the weekly meeting of the full Cabinet earlier on Sunday.
Speaking with ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the White House was in “constant contact” with Israel, Qatar and Egypt to get a deal in place “as soon as possible.”
“Ultimately, that comes down to Hamas. And Hamas will have to be willing to say yes to an arrangement that brings hostages home. And we’re going to continue pressing from every direction to try to make that happen,” he stressed, adding that an agreement is not imminent.
“Ultimately, these kinds of negotiations unfold somewhat slowly until they unfold very quickly. And so it’s difficult to put a precise timetable on when something might come together or, frankly, if something might come together,” Sullivan told ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos.
Washington regards a ceasefire-for-hostages deal as “critical for getting people home to their loved ones, but also being critical to generate a sustained pause in hostilities that can support the flow of humanitarian assistance and that can alleviate the suffering in Gaza,” Sullivan added.
Under a separate agreement brokered by France and Qatar last month, Jerusalem agreed to allow more goods, including medicine, into Gaza. Under the terms of the arrangement with Hamas, some of the medicines were supposed to go to the hostages.
“A senior Hamas official said that for every box provided for the hostages, 1,000 boxes of medicine would be sent in for Palestinians,” the Associated Press reported on Jan. 18.
The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which represents relatives of the captives, has demanded “visual proof” that the aid reached the hostages. However, 19 days after the trucks entered Gaza, there has been no word on whether Hamas held up its part of the deal, the NGO said on Sunday.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office has also been unable to confirm whether the hostages received the medicines intended for them.
According to official figures, around 136 hostages remain in the Gaza Strip, although dozens are believed to be dead. Many of the captives are in desperate need of medical attention, experts previously told JNS.
Image: Families of Israeli captives in Gaza speak to reporters outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art after returning from talks in Qatar, Jan. 7, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.