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Israeli delegation returns from Cairo without breakthrough in hostage negotiations

Low-level talks continue, number of prisoners exchanged for hostages remains a point of disagreement

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi receives William Burns, head of the CIA, in the presence of Major General Abbas Kamel, head of Egyptian intelligence, Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 13, 2024. (Photo: Egyptian President Office/IMAGO/APAimages via Reuters)

The Israeli delegation sent to negotiate a hostage release deal in Cairo, Egypt, returned late Tuesday evening without any breakthrough in the stalled talks. 

In addition to Israel, the negotiations reportedly involved representatives from the United States, Egypt, and Qatar, which is acting as a mediator for the Hamas terror organization. 

The Israeli delegation was to consist of Israel's Mossad Chief David Barnea, Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, and POW/MIA coordinator Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon. However, according to reports, Alon decided not to join the delegation, sending a deputy instead, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to allow the Israeli team to present new ideas in the discussions. 

There were conflicting reports about the negotiations, however. The Israeli team allegedly suggested terms that were different from the Paris outline, according to reports from Israel’s Channel 13 news and Lebanese news site Al-Akhbar, affiliated with the Hezbollah terror group. 

The Paris plan framework envisions a six-week initial humanitarian pause with three phases. Around 35 to 40 Israeli hostages, primarily women, men older than 60, and those with serious medical needs would be released during the first phase. In the second phase, Israeli soldiers would be released, and the bodies of deceased hostages released in the third phase. 

According to Israeli and Lebanese reports, Israel presented a proposal similar to the previous hostage agreement, with a limited humanitarian pause, during which increased humanitarian aid would be distributed, and the former exchange deal, which released three Palestinian prisoners for every one Israeli hostage. 

However, KAN 11 news reported that a new deal was suggested by the Mossad and Shin Bet, but was dismissed by Netanyahu, who instructed to group “only to listen.” 

Reports from American news sites indicate that the Biden administration hopes to turn the long humanitarian pause into a final ceasefire, which Israel is unwilling to accept. 

Hamas has demanded an immediate, permanent ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the entire Gaza Strip, and the release of around 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the 132 remaining Israeli hostages; at least 30 of whom are presumed dead. 

According to several media reports, including Axios, the ratio of prisoners to hostages is a significant part of the disagreement between Israel and Hamas. 

An informed U.S. official involved in the discussions stated: “The talks were good, but there is no breakthrough yet.” 

He also said that “the ratio of the number of prisoners to be released for each abductee is a problematic issue that prevents progress.” 

Meanwhile, Netanyahu appears to believe that continued military pressure on the ground in Khan Younis, and the threat of an incursion into Rafah, will produce results in the hostage talks. 

According to a report in the New York Times, low-level talks will continue for another three days, as Qatari and Egyptian mediators investigate whether Hamas is willing to soften its demands. 

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

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