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Times Of Israel
Times Of Israel
16 Dec 2023

NextImg:Israel said looking to boost efforts for new hostage deal, but expects hard road ahead

Several reports in Hebrew media Saturday indicated Israel was looking to boost its efforts to reach a new hostage release deal with Hamas, though officials warned that the path toward such a deal was far from straightforward.

Kan news, citing Egyptian officials, reported that Egyptian and Qatari officials offered a new deal to Hamas in recent days, which would see the release of elderly and sick men and the remaining women and children in exchange for the release of senior Palestinian prisoners.

It was not clear whether the offer was made after consultations with Israel. Kan said Hamas had so far not responded to the proposal.

Speaking to Channel 12 about a potential new deal, a security official said that the process “will be long and very complex, far far more than the last time, and there is a long way ahead. The wheels are just starting to turn now. The one who holds the bargaining chips is Hamas, and we need to make it understand that the butcher’s knife is approaching its neck.”

Israeli leaders have insisted since the collapse of the previous release deal on December 1 that there had been no realistic proposal from Hamas for further releases, with the group making demands Israel could not accept, far beyond the release of top prisoners. Defense officials have maintained that the best strategy to bring Hamas to the table was a massive increase of military pressure on the group through the Gaza offensive.

Still, Mossad chief David Barnea was widely reported to have met with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Norway on Friday night to discuss the possibility of a new deal.

Citing two sources, the Wall Street Journal also said that the talks “are just the beginning” and that the process would be “long, difficult and complicated.”

One of the sources added that CIA director Bill Burns and Egypt’s Intelligence Minister General Abbas Kamel were briefed on the meeting and are helping in the renewed push for a deal.

Pressure on the government has increased to secure the safe return of hostages who remain held by Gaza terrorists, amid the rise in reports of hostage deaths in captivity and the military’s shocking accidental killing of three escaped hostages on Friday.

Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza was triggered by the Hamas terror onslaught on October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists poured into Israel from the land, air and sea, launching the deadliest attack in Israel’s history.

The terrorists rampaged across more than 20 communities in southern Israel, killing more than 1,200 people and seizing some 240 hostages.

It is believed that 128 hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Hamas broke that ceasefire by refusing to abide by its terms after the seventh day and resuming rocket fire at Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 21 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

Following Barnea’s meeting with the Qatari leader, Israel’s high-level war cabinet, comprising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz, as well as several observers, was expected to meet Saturday night to discuss the possibility of a renewed push for a second hostage deal.

L-R: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Minister Benny Gantz attend a press conference at the Defense Ministry, in Tel Aviv. December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

During the cabinet meeting, the members will have to discuss “the question of what the enemy will gather from Israel presenting its stance,” a senior political official told Channel 12.

“There is an understanding that if a new proposal is offered — it should shake Sinwar,” the official continued. “It should be a creative proposal in terms of the equation, of what Israel demands, but also what it is willing to give. Something that will break the deadlock.”

Hamas has appeared to toughen its position, with some of the group’s officials indicating the war would need to end before it entertains the idea of any more releases.

The group doubled down on this position Saturday, issuing an official statement saying it would not agree to another deal “unless the aggression against our people stops once and for all.” The statement said Hamas has communicated this stance to mediators.

Hamas politburo member Osama Hamdan said on Saturday evening that the terror group will not agree to another deal until Israel halts military operations and accepts Hamas’s conditions, though he did not elaborate.

Israel’s apparent renewed push for a hostage deal comes after three escaped hostages, Yotam Haim, Samar Fouad Talalka and Alon Shamriz, were accidentally killed by IDF troops operating in northern Gaza’s Shejaiya neighborhood. The soldiers identified the three men as a threat and opened fire, killing them.

An initial IDF probe into their deaths found that the three hostages were shirtless and waving a white flag when they were shot.

The incident shocked the country and brought on fresh urgent calls by the families of hostages to immediately secure the return of the other hostages.

A large rally was held Saturday in Tel Aviv, as on every weekend, in which families demanded cabinet members meet them and details their actions to bring about the release of their loved ones.