May 23, 2024

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Ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas reach a dead end again

Ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas reach a dead end again

The latest round of negotiations between Israel and Hamas reached an impasse on Sunday, as mediators struggled to fill remaining gaps and a Hamas delegation left the talks in Cairo, according to two senior Hamas officials and other officials familiar with the talks. An Israeli official also confirmed that the negotiations had faltered, describing them as being in a “crisis.”

Over the course of months, negotiations aimed at achieving a ceasefire and releasing the hostages made little progress, but signs emerged that the two sides were close to reaching an agreement during the past week. Israel backed down from some of its long-standing demands, and a senior Hamas official said that the movement was studying the latest Israeli offer “in a positive spirit.”

But the weekend’s setback means Palestinians living in miserable conditions in Gaza will not receive an imminent pardon and families of hostages held by militants will have to wait longer for their loved ones to be released.

The main obstacle in the talks was the duration of the ceasefire, with Hamas demanding that it be permanent, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also expressed his openness to only a temporary cessation of fighting.

Hamas blamed the lack of progress on Mr. Netanyahu, who pledged again in recent days that the Israeli army would invade Rafah, the southernmost city of the Gaza Strip, with or without an agreement.

Musa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official, said in a phone interview: “We were very close, but Netanyahu’s narrow-mindedness aborted reaching an agreement.”

Mr. Netanyahu announced weeks ago his intention to launch a ground attack targeting Rafah, where about a million Palestinians are seeking refuge. The Biden administration is pressuring Israel to refrain from carrying out a major operation in the city.

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On Sunday, Hamas fired approximately 10 rockets from the Rafah border crossing area, killing three soldiers near the Kerem Shalom crossing, according to the Israeli army. Rocket attacks carried out by Hamas have been relatively rare in recent months, and Israel said it responded with air strikes targeting the launch site.

The Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Israel and Hamas were closer to reaching an agreement two days ago, but Mr. Netanyahu’s statements on Rafah forced Hamas to toughen its demands in an attempt to ensure a victory for Israeli forces. Do not enter the city. The official said that Hamas is now seeking more guarantees that Israel will implement only part of the agreement and then resume fighting.

The official expressed his regret that Hamas and Israel have shifted toward playing the “blame game.”

Two American officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, rejected the idea that the talks had reached a dead end, noting that the parties were still reviewing the details of the latest proposals.

Mr. Netanyahu and the United States argue that Hamas is obstructing an agreement. Netanyahu said on Sunday that he would not agree to a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and an end to the war. He said that supporting such demands would allow Hamas to regain control of Gaza, rebuild its military capabilities, and threaten communities throughout Israel.

He said: “It is Hamas that is obstructing the release of our hostages.” “We are working in every possible way to free the hostages. This is our top priority.”

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An Israeli delegation was never able to reach Cairo to attend the final round of talks. The Israeli official said that Israel requested a written response to its latest proposal from Hamas before sending a delegation, but the movement did not send any response at all.

Mr. Abu Marzouk said that Hamas wanted Israel to be present at the talks in Cairo, where it could work through mediators to clarify “ambiguous” points in the latest Israeli offer, including regarding the duration of the ceasefire.

He said: “The ceasefire must be permanent and stable.”

Mr. Abu Marzouk was the only one of the officials who spoke about the talks to allow his name to be used. The others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic or because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Abu Marzouk said that Hamas believes that Mr. Netanyahu wants to reach an agreement that would allow Israel to invade Rafah after the hostages are released.

“This is Netanyahu’s plan,” he said.

Two officials familiar with the talks said that a technical team from the Qatari Foreign Ministry also left the Egyptian capital on Sunday. One of the officials said that CIA Director Bill Burns met with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Doha on Sunday to discuss getting the talks back on track.

Hamas’ political leadership meets on Monday in Doha to discuss what happened in Cairo over the past two days, but the movement intends to continue participating in the negotiations “positively,” said a senior Hamas official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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A report in Cairo News, an Egyptian state-owned television channel, said that a Hamas delegation would return to Cairo on Tuesday, but a senior Hamas official said the group had not yet made a decision.

Peter Baker And Michael Crowley He contributed reporting to this article.