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Delegations from US, Qatar, Israel and Hamas resume indirect negotiations for hostage deal in Cairo

Israeli officials: 'We mustn't slow down in Rafah. It is our only chance to bring about a deal'

Relatives of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza hold a press conference in Tel Aviv on April 7, 2024. (Photo: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Delegations from Qatar, the United States, Israel and Hamas arrived in Cairo, Egypt, on Tuesday to resume indirect talks between Israel and Hamas for a possible hostage release deal, according to Israeli media outlets.

The U.S. delegation is being led by CIA Director William Burns, while the Israeli delegation includes members of the Mossad intelligence agency, the Israeli Defense Forces and the Israel Security Agency (ISA) or Shin Bet, who are not authorized to take part in the negotiations but will be present to listen and ask questions.

Hamas announced on Monday that it would accept a proposal from mediators but then added new demands, which Israel rejected. Israeli officials said that if there is no progress made in Cairo, the Israeli military will proceed to the next stage of the Rafah operation, which also began on Monday.

"We understand that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar is playing for time. We mustn't slow down in Rafah. It is our only chance to bring about a deal," the officials said.

Hamas said it would only release 18 hostages unless Israel agrees to a permanent ceasefire, according to media outlets. The terror group also refused to limit the first phase of the hostage deal to those who are alive, demanding that the release of 33 hostages in the "humanitarian" category – which includes women, children, the elderly, and the sick – also include individuals who have been killed.

Hamas leaders also demanded that Israel release any Palestinian prisoners from its jails, including Marwan Barghouti, who has been imprisoned for over 20 years after being convicted of multiple murders. Barghouti is believed to be a leading candidate to replace Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The chance of reaching a breakthrough in the hostage release deal is “unlikely and will depend on Hamas’ willingness to compromise and maneuver in the terms of the proposal,” according to one Israeli source.

"It is hard to believe that they will follow the same path as ours. The Hamas proposal is designed to mislead and present Israel as a refusenik,” the source added.

In a statement on Tuesday, Hamas said the Rafah offensive “aimed to compound the already grave humanitarian situation in the Strip. This crime comes after we announced that we accepted the proposed deal," the statement read.

However, Israeli officials said the announcement by the terror group that they would accept the proposed deal was a ploy to prevent Israel’s incursion into Rafah, noting that Hamas had agreed to an offer that Israel never approved.

Israeli officials also argued that the Biden administration was aware of the proposal negotiated by Egypt and Qatar but failed to warn Israel before Hamas announced its acceptance on Monday.

Israeli tank forces seized the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing on Tuesday after instructing thousands of civilians to evacuate to an expanded humanitarian zone in the al-Mawasi and Khan Younis areas of southern Gaza.

According to the IDF, three of Hamas’ battalions – Yabna, Shaboura and East Rafah – are also located in the region that was being evacuated.

The expanded humanitarian zone around al-Mawasi and Khan Younis includes field hospitals and tent camps for displaced civilians.

The Israeli War Cabinet is expected to meet on Wednesday to discuss the Cairo delegation’s report upon their return.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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