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Israel to send delegation to Qatar amid optimism about hostage deal

PARIS – The War Cabinet agreed to send a delegation to hostage talks in Paris after Israel expressed cautious optimism Saturday night about the possibility of a hostage deal that could involve a six-week pause to the fighting before Ramadan, according to Israeli media.

“We are working to obtain another framework outline for the release of our hostages,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in a post on X on Saturday. “That is why I sent a delegation to Paris – and tonight we will discuss the next steps in the negotiations,” he stated.

He emphasized simultaneously that Israel was committed to destroying “the Hamas battalions in Rafah.”

“At the beginning of the week, I will convene the cabinet to approve the operational plans for action in Rafah, including the evacuation of the civilian population from there,” Netanyahu said.

“Only a combination of military pressure and firm negotiations will lead to the release of our hostages, the elimination of Hamas, and the achievement of all the war’s goals,” the prime minister said.

Ronen Bar, head of the Shin Bet security services, Mossad chief David Barnea at the annual IDF Armored Corps memorial ceremony, marking the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, in Yad La-Shiryon, on September 27, 2023. (credit: Jonathan Shaul/Flash90)

A senior Israeli source said that the two sides were still far apart “from a deal” to secure the return of the remaining 134 hostages held in Gaza, but that Hamas has “dropped some of its demands following the hardening of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s positions.”

Israel has insisted that any deal must allow for the IDF to complete its military campaign against Hamas.

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi told Channel 12 on Saturday evening that “From the tone of what I have been hearing in recent hours, it will be possible to make progress.”

Hanegbi did not give further details but appeared to nod when asked if progress could be made in time for Ramadan, which begins on March 10. He spoke after an Israeli delegation returned from talks held Friday by CIA Director William Burns.

Sources involved in the negotiations told the Israeli press that advancement has been made towards a new framework, though several crucial details still need to be agreed upon.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the outline includes one day of ceasefire for each hostage released, namely six weeks of ceasefire. For every hostage liberated, 10 Palestinian prisoners will be released from Israeli jails.

Israel would also agree to pull out of the north of the Gaza Strip. The issue of expanding humanitarian aid is a relatively easy issue to compromise on, although details are not clear yet as to what is included in the new outline.

A Palestinian official briefed on the talks said that the Israelis, in Paris, had been “vague” about their Gaza endgame.

“While Israel is focusing on an attempt to turn any agreement into a prisoner-swap deal, Hamas insists that any agreement must be based on a commitment by the Israeli occupation to end the war and pull its forces from the Gaza Strip,” the official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters. “This is the priority as far as Hamas is concerned.”

Another Palestinian official indicated that a hostage release as part of an exchange was not imminent, saying there had been “no discussion over the prisoners, neither in terms of categories nor numbers.”

A source briefed on the Paris talks, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said they had produced a proposed truce “outline” that could eventually lead to a truce but gave no further details.

Israel’s delegation to the Friday talks included Mossad Chief David Barnea, Shin bet Head Ronen Bar, Hostage Affairs Coordinator Nitzan Alon, and Head of IDF Strategic Affairs Division Oren Sefer.

The meeting in Paris was the third encounter between the four parties negotiating a hostage deal/ceasefire with Hamas. A first meeting Between Barnea, Bar, CIA Chief William Burns, Egyptian Intelligence Chief Abbas Kamel, and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed al-Thani took place at the end of January, producing the first outline for a deal.

Still, the multitude of conditions set by Hamas for the implementation of the first Paris deal rendered it unfeasible, Israel estimated, assessing that the group was not interested at that point in reaching a new agreement. It was only after growing pressure from Washington, Doha, and Cairo vis-à-vis Hamas, that a second encounter was proposed.

Netanyahu pressured by White House, Gaza hostages’ families

Pressured by the White House on the one hand and the families of the hostages on the other, Netanyahu agreed for an Israeli delegation to travel to Cairo in mid-February for a second meeting.

Since then,…

Read More: Israel to send delegation to Qatar amid optimism about hostage deal

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