Hamas Says No Hostage Negotiations Unless Fighting IGaza Stops; Israel: No Chance

Terror group says it won’t take part in talks as it sends Ismail Haniyeh to Cairo; Herzog to French official: Israel has ‘made it clear it is prepared for a humanitarian pause’

Dec. 22, 2023, 7:32 a.m.

Israel on Thursday firmly rejected a Hamas demand to permanently halt fighting before releasing any more hostages being held by terrorists in Gaza, as talks in Cairo for a truce deal appeared to make little progress.

A Hamas official told AFP that “a total ceasefire and a retreat of the Israeli occupation army from the Gaza Strip are a precondition for any serious negotiation” on a hostage-prisoner swap.

Israel has repeatedly rejected any such proposition, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated on Thursday the longstanding position in no uncertain terms: “We are fighting until victory. We will not stop the war until we achieve all its goals — completing the destruction of Hamas, and releasing all of our hostages.”

Netanyahu added that he was giving Hamas a “very simple choice: surrender or die. They do not have and will not have any other option.”

He added that “after we destroy Hamas, I will work with all my power to ensure that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel” — an apparent indication that he does not intend to step down or publicly take responsibility for the failures that enabled Hamas’s October 7 massacres.

A senior Israeli official told reporters Thursday that there are currently no active negotiations for a new hostage release agreement with Hamas, but noted that Israeli officials have met twice this week with Qatari officials to discuss a new framework for such a deal.

“We made clear to everyone in Israel and outside of Israel that it’s time to renew the shaping up of a new hostages [release] structure,” the official said during an off-record press briefing. He said a previous hostage deal — in which 105 hostages were released during a week-long ceasefire that saw Israel free 240 Palestinian security prisoners — worked well, and that Israel was now ready to discuss new stages for hostage releases in order to return the remaining 129 to Israel.

A senior Hamas official told Al Jazeera later Thursday that the terror group is not interested in freeing hostages in exchange for even weeks-long pauses in the fighting, because Israel would continue the war afterward.

“Some people are looking for a small pause — a pause here and there for one week, two weeks, three weeks,” Ghazi Hamad, a member of Hamas’s political bureau in Lebanon, said. “But we want to stop the aggression [completely].”

“Because I think Israel will take the card of the hostages, and after that they will start a new round of mass killing and massacres against our people. I think we will not play this game,” said Hamad, who has previously said Hamas will seek to carry out October 7-like attacks repeatedly in the future until Israel is destroyed.

The Hamas claim that it would not even negotiate comes as the terror group sent its leader to Cairo for ongoing hostage talks. Meanwhile, Israeli negotiating officials have met this week with Qatari sources in Europe as Israel appears to be angling for another round of releases.

Qatar-based Hamas political bureau leader Ismail Haniyeh visited Egypt on Wednesday for talks with the country’s intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.

The Times of Israel

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