Hamas is demanding that Israel free terrorists who participated in the terror group’s Oct. 7 massacre as part of any hostage deal, Hebrew media reported on Saturday.
The Gaza-based terrorist group is examining the framework of an agreement negotiated in Paris on Jan. 28 by Israeli, American, Qatari and Egyptian interlocutors. The agreement would see the release of the 136 remaining captives (including some believed to be dead) taken during the bloody assault on southern Israel in exchange for an extended ceasefire and other concessions.
Despite news reports that a Hamas delegation led by Qatar-based political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh visited Cairo last week for talks on the Paris outline, the trip was postponed as the terrorist group works on additional comments and clauses it will present to Egyptian and Qatari mediators in the coming days, according to Channel 13.
Cairo and Doha are reportedly pressuring Hamas to reach a deal in the next two weeks, and negotiations are expected to accelerate in that regard. Internal friction between Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar, who runs Hamas in Gaza, has also surfaced, with the The Wall Street Journal reporting that Sinwar is more inclined to accept an initial six-week ceasefire (40 days), while the political bureau leadership want to negotiate a permanent halt to fighting.
According to Israel’s Channel 13, Egyptian and Qatari mediators have told Hamas that the Biden administration is assuring them that there will not be a return to combat after the deal. Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar, returned to Doha from a visit to Washington on Saturday.
Additional demands expected to be presented by Hamas in Cairo include the release of only one Israeli abductee per day and four stages instead of the three previously reported. In the first stage, elderly men and women will be freed; the second stage will see female soldiers returned; the third stage, young men and soldiers; and the fourth and final phase the return of bodies.
According to the Egyptians, Hamas also does not want to give Israel a list of the abductees still in Gaza, either dead or alive.
Furthermore, Channel 12 reported that Hamas is demanding control over the scope of humanitarian aid entering the Gaza Strip, freedom of movement for its operatives and the return of Gazans to their homes anywhere in the Strip.
“I am not optimistic about reaching conclusions in the coming days. The core demand of Hamas to end the war has not dropped yet, even if they do allow entering into a negotiation process,” a senior Israeli official told Channel 13.
Another senior Israeli official told Channel 13 that the identities and number of terrorists who could be released as part of a deal “are expected to be much smaller than those published, which may increase support within the government for such a deal.”
“We will not withdraw the Israel Defense Forces from the Gaza Strip and we will not release thousands of terrorists. None of this will happen,” Netanyahu told students and staff during a visit to the Bnei David pre-military academy in Eli in Samaria’s Binyamin region.
“I hear talk about all kinds of deals. I would like to make it clear: We will not conclude this war without achieving all of its goals. This means eliminating Hamas, returning all of our hostages and ensuring that Gaza never again constitutes a threat to Israel,” the premier said.
Fifty percent of Israelis are opposed to a hostage deal that would see an extended pause in fighting in Gaza and the release of thousands of Palestinian terrorists, according to a snap poll conducted by Israel’s Channel 12 last week.
Just 35% overall support the terms of the potential agreement, with the rest undecided.
Among Netanyahu coalition voters, only 12% support the deal compared to 75% against, while among opposition-bloc voters, 53% are in favor versus 32% opposing.