Talks on the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza are taking place “right now,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday night, as Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh warned the terrorist group will only release captives if its conditions are met.
“The effort continues; the talks are taking place and have not been cut off,” Netanyahu stated following a meeting at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv with families of hostages held by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Gaza-based terrorist factions.
“There was an ultimatum from Hamas—now it has somewhat softened,” added the premier.
In a televised statement released earlier on Tuesday, Haniyeh warned that “enemy prisoners will not be released except under the resistance’s conditions.”
Hamas informed Qatari and Egyptian mediators it would only release hostages if Jerusalem agreed to a “complete cessation” of the Israel Defense Forces offensive in Gaza, Haniyeh said.
He also signaled his willingness to join a single Palestinian governing body for the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria once Israel wraps up its invasion in the coastal enclave.
Hamas is believed to still be holding approximately 129 hostages, although not all of them are thought to be alive. One hundred ten have been released, most in a deal that Hamas violated on Nov. 28.
Late last week, Netanyahu reportedly described the renewed negotiations, which have mainly been conducted through Doha and Cairo, as a “tug of war” with ups and downs, assuring families of the hostages that the military pressure on Hamas was bearing fruit.
Newly-installed Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz vowed on Tuesday to make the return of the hostages his ministry’s top priority.
Hours before Haniyeh’s speech, the London-based Arab World Press news outlet, citing sources inside Hamas, reported that the terrorist organization dropped its demand for an end to Israel’s military operation and the withdrawal of its troops.
Hamas is now open to the release of 40 hostages in return for 120 Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli prisons, the report said. Hamas had demanded a one-day ceasefire in exchange for each hostage, AWP said, but Jerusalem rejected that proposal.
“The five-way talks between Egypt, Qatar, the United States, Israel and Hamas are ongoing, but so far no agreement has been reached,” the source said, adding that negotiations have “accelerated significantly in recent hours,” with Cairo and Doha making “persistent efforts.”
On Monday, an Israeli official told Axios that Hamas presented a proposal over the weekend that was “totally off base,” adding that the Jewish state requested that mediators “try and produce a more acceptable proposal.
“They are working on it and let’s see what happens,” Axios cited the Israeli official as saying.