Hostage release talks with Hamas will take much longer, source says

Despite reports Israel, Hamas agree in principle on framework for deal that would include a month-long truce, Israeli political source tells Ynet ‘no progress in talks’ because ‘Hamas keeps hardening its stance’
Recent reports that Israel and Hamas have agreed in principle to a cease-fire are incorrect and such an agreement, which would include the release of Israeli hostages held by the terrorist group, is still far off, an Israeli political source told Ynet Wednesday morning.
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"There are huge differences, and no progress in the talks. It's very complicated, and Hamas keeps hardening its stance. No one should have any illusions - this will take much longer," the source said.
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יחיא סינוואר, הפגנה מול בית ראש הממשלה בקיסריה, ביבי בינימין נתניהו
יחיא סינוואר, הפגנה מול בית ראש הממשלה בקיסריה, ביבי בינימין נתניהו
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar; protesters call to bring the hostages home; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(Photos: Ido Erez, Sharon Tzur, Eli Mandelbaum)
Various world media outlets published overnight more details about the ongoing negotiations with Hamas, which are being conducted through Qatari, Egyptian and American mediation. The reports indicated that the negotiations are high intensity, even though a breakthrough has not yet been achieved, and that in the first stage, the children and women who remain in captivity should be released.
Reuters reported, citing three sources, that Israel and Hamas broadly agree in principle that an exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners could take place during a month-long cease-fire, but the framework plan is being held up by the two sides' differences over how to bring a permanent end to the Gaza war.
Intense mediation efforts led by Qatar, Washington and Egypt in recent weeks have focused on a phased approach to release different categories of Israeli hostages - starting with civilians and ending with soldiers - in return for a break in hostilities, the release of Palestinian prisoners and more aid to Gaza.
The latest round of shuttle diplomacy started on Dec. 28 and has narrowed disagreements about the length of an initial cease-fire to around 30 days, after Hamas had first proposed a pause of several months, said one of the sources, an official briefed on the negotiations.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported, from Egyptian sources, that Hamas officials told the international mediators that they were "open to discussing" an agreement to release "all civilian women and children" who remained in captivity, in exchange for a "significant pause in the war." Some 19 women and two children - Ariel and Kfir Bibas - remain captives of Hamas, though it is not known if they are alive or dead. The Wall Street Journal noted that this is a "significant turn" in the position of Hamas, which has so far opposed any negotiations that do not include a permanent end to the war.
However, Hamas has since refused to move forward with the plans until the future conditions of a permanent cease-fire are agreed, six sources told Reuters. Most of the sources requested anonymity in order to speak freely about sensitive matters.
While Israel has sought to negotiate one stage at a time, Hamas is seeking "a package deal" that agrees to a permanent cease-fire before hostages are released during the initial phase, said one of the sources, a Palestinian official close to the mediation efforts. Israel and Hamas are speaking through the mediators, not talking directly.
A White House spokesman said on Tuesday that U.S. Middle East envoy Brett McGurk was in the region - for the second time in a week - for discussions about releasing hostages and that Washington would support a longer "humanitarian pause."

Hamas wants guarantees of war's end

Two Egyptian security sources said that there was work underway to convince Hamas to accept a one-month truce to be followed by a permanent cease-fire. However, Hamas is requesting guarantees that the second phase of the deal would be carried out, in order to agree to the initial truce, the sources said, though it is unknown what these guarantees would be.
Asked about the negotiations, senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters on Monday the organization was open to discussing ideas but that no deal was yet in place.
"We are open to all initiatives and proposals, but any agreement must be based on ending the aggression and the occupation's complete pullout from the Gaza Strip," said Abu Zuhri.
One offer by Israel is to end the war if Hamas removes six senior leaders from Gaza, said a seventh source, a senior Hamas official. However, Hamas "absolutely" rejected the proposal, he said.
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מוחמד דף
מוחמד דף
Mohammed Deif is a mastermind of the October 7 attack and a major figure on Israel's hit list
(Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
The source said the list included the masterminds of Hamas' Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif, who are Israel's top targets to kill or capture in the war and are thought to be hiding deep within Hamas' extensive network of tunnels beneath Gaza. Reuters was not immediately able to confirm this proposal with Israeli sources.
Almost four months after the Hamas attack on southern Israel that killed around 1,200 people, Israel's offensive in Gaza has yet to eliminate Hamas' senior leadership or its capacity to fight, despite razing much of the coastal enclave and killing more than 25,000 Palestinians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated this week that only "total victory" over Hamas would bring an end to the war, but he is under increasing pressure to reach a deal, including from members of his war cabinet and the families of around 130 hostages who remain in captivity since the Hamas incursion.
Five of the sources said Israel had refused to discuss any end to the war that did not include Hamas being dismantled. They did not specify if exiling the leadership would meet that bar.

US diplomatic efforts continue

Washington is ratcheting up diplomatic pressure to end the violence. Earlier in January, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken shuttled between Arab states and Israel on a frenetic tour aimed at finding a way forward from the bloodshed.
However, Hamas is seeking guarantees that Israel will not restart the conflict, a U.S. source briefed on the matter and the Palestinian official said.
Hamas wants the United States, Egypt and Qatar to guarantee the implementation, and is concerned that Netanyahu's government would resume fighting once Hamas frees civilian hostages, even if Israeli soldiers remain captive, the Palestinian official said.
During this round, Hamas had sought the release of all Palestinian prisoners from Israel's prisons, including those that participated in the Oct. 7 attacks, the U.S. source said. The official briefed on the talks said Hamas had since softened that demand, which would likely be vehemently opposed by Israel.
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מחאת משפחות החטופים מול בית ראש הממשלה בירושלים
מחאת משפחות החטופים מול בית ראש הממשלה בירושלים
Protesters in Jerusalem rally to bring the hostages home
The Washington Post reported overnight that the mediators in the negotiations describe several steps in the process: first, Hamas will release about 10 women and children who were supposed to be released during the previous agreement. In the second phase, about 40 sick, wounded and elderly hostages would be released. In the remaining phase, the terrorist organization will release the male abductees, including soldiers, as well as the bodies it is holding. Any departure of Israeli hostages from the Gaza Strip will be accompanied by the release of Palestinian prisoners, with the expected ratio greater than three terrorists for every Israeli.

Terrorists among Palestinian prisoners to be released

Among the hundreds of prisoners who will be released, according to the report, are also murderous terrorists - and possibly also Marwan Barghouti - who is considered a leader who is accepted by large sections of Palestinian society in Gaza and the West Bank.
A senior Egyptian official told the AP news agency Tuesday that Israel has forwarded to Hamas a new proposal for a two-month cease-fire, during which the hostages will be released in exchange for the release of prisoners from Israeli prisons. According to the source, Hamas rejected the offer - which also includes the exile of the senior members of the terrorist organization who are in the Gaza Strip to other countries. In Israel, on the other hand, they said that no answer had been received so far from Hamas.
The Egyptian source noted that Hamas insists that it will not release more hostages until Israel stops the fire completely and withdraws from the Gaza Strip. Israel did not respond to the report. Egypt and Qatar, the source added, are now trying to formulate a multi-stage plan - which will try to bridge the gaps between the parties.
Hamas said that "our priority is to stop the aggression in the Gaza Strip and the withdrawal of the Israeli forces, and then the prisoner deal. No one will agree to stop the war for two months, and then Israel will return to commit massacres again." A senior Hamas official claimed that "this proposal is an Israeli fraud, we reject it."
Israeli officials who commented on the issue said that Israel did not receive a negative answer from Hamas to the proposals and continues to wait for the answer. The same sources said that the answer could come within a few hours or within a few days, and in any case for now there is no outline, nothing is closed and the talks continue.
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