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Mossad chief returns from Qatar negotiations, Israeli officials pessimistic about hostage deal

Security officials suspect Hamas is using negotiations to delay Rafah operation

Mossad Director David Barnea speaks during a Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), in Tel Aviv, on Sept. 10, 2023. (Photo: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel's war cabinet met on Tuesday night to discuss the details of negotiations with Hamas for a possible hostage release deal following the return of Mossad Director David Barnea and the IDF representative for hostage affairs, Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon from the State of Qatar.

Barnea arrived in Qatar on Sunday night and returned to Israel on Tuesday afternoon. Israeli officials estimate that the talks could take up to two weeks, however, the Mossad chief returned to Israel to brief the war cabinet on the current Hamas stance following meetings on Monday. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly demanded that any progress during negotiations would have to be approved by the war cabinet. Sources in the Israeli government also said that Netanyahu restricted the delegation’s mandate for the talks in order to test Hamas’ motivations in the negotiations. There were allegedly concerns that various proposals would be made in order to drag out the negotiations further. 

According to local Hebrew news reports, there's a significant amount of pessimism about reaching a deal. Some officials in Israel’s security sector reportedly believe that Hamas’ Gaza leader, Yahyah Sinwar, may simply be using the negotiations to delay a Rafah operation, especially with Western nations like the United States increasingly opposed to a Rafah incursion. 

Pundits believe Sinwar thinks that international pressure could force Israel to end the war without entering Rafah, which would mean that Hamas would survive and be able to rebuild, according to the IDF.

However, despite U.S. and international pressure, Netanyahu has indicated that a Rafah operation is a necessity for Israel to complete its war objectives: To eliminate the Hamas terror organization and bring the hostages home.

Meanwhile, Hamas seemingly changed some of its demands, including the call for a total withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip. 

On Monday, a Hamas representative said the group would accept a partial IDF withdrawal before exchanging some hostages for Palestinian prisoners. 

However, Hamas is demanding a withdrawal from the northern Gaza Strip, as well as the return of northern Gaza residents to their homes. 

Prior to the war cabinet meeting on Tuesday night, senior officials said: "We are on the outline of a hostage deal, Hamas needs to capitulate a little more in order to have a deal. There are good chances for a deal after Hamas has folded from its starting position to end the war.” 

However, a senior security official told Ynet News: “It seems that it will take more time because there are many more things that need to be bridged, but there is potential.” 

Another security official said the Rafah incursion will probably not take place as long as the negotiations are in progress, as it would complicate matters related to the hostages. 

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

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