Hamas still deliberating hostage deal


Hostage/Prisoner exchange: Hamas sources said over the weekend the group was still debating the cease-fire and hostage-release deal proposal.

  • According to the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa channel, Hamas is deliberating with “all the representatives from the different factions and organisations in the Palestinian sphere” to promote Palestinian national interests, the first of which is “stopping the [Israeli] aggression, rehabilitating the Gaza Strip, and releasing the prisoners.”
  • The Saudi network Al-Arabiya, however, reported that Hamas has rejected the Israeli proposal for a hostage deal and is demanding that the number of Palestinian prisoners Israel releases be increased. According to the report, Israel is opposed to the demand.
  • When asked about progress on potential hostage deals, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on ABC’s This Week programme that “I can’t say it’s imminent, but ultimately these kinds of negotiations unfold somewhat slowly until they unfold very quickly. And so it’s difficult to put a precise timetable on when something might come together or frankly if something might come together. But sitting here today I cannot tell you it’s right around the corner.”
  • In an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press programme, he said: “At this point, it’s up to Hamas to come forward and respond to a serious proposal, and we will continue to press Qatar and Egypt to try and generate a positive response,” he said. “What we’re pushing for is an outcome where every hostage returns home and Hamas in no longer in charge of Gaza… Everybody wants an end to the war, no one wants the war to continue. But for this to happen, all the hostages need to come home and Hamas needs to no longer pose a threat to Israel.”
  • On CBS’ Face the Nation, Sullivan said the US “has been clear that we have to look out for and respond to the immense and terrible suffering of the Palestinian people. And that means pressing Israel on issues related to the humanitarian assistance that we have helped unlock and get into the Gaza Strip and there needs to be much more of it.” 

Gaza Strip: The IDF said it raided a central command centre of Hamas’ Khan Younis division where it located the office Mohammad Sinwar, brother of Hamas leader in Gaza.

  • IDF forces also raided a central outpost of the division, which was used to train terrorists that participated in the October 7 attacks. The outpost had models of Kibbutz entrances, IDF bases and armed vehicles.
  • Troops found storerooms housing rockets, shafts that led to underground facilities, equipment that was used to manufacture guns, as well as a large cache of weapons that included anti-tank missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, machineguns, explosive devices, hand grenades, rifle magazines and more.
  • On Sunday, 24-year-old IDF soldier Shimon Yehoshua Asulin was killed in action in the southern Gaza Strip.
  • During a visit to the Tel Nof Air Base Israeli Defence Minister Gallant said that “every airstrike in Gaza brings us closer to achieving our goals and returning the hostages. The pressure on Hamas is working, they are in a bad condition, and we are hitting them. In the north, the reality is similar – as we deepen our military achievements, the chance of not having to go to war grows.”

The north: At least eight rockets were fired this morning from Lebanon at the Upper Galilee. No injuries were sustained.

  • An anti-tank missile that was shot from Lebanon into northern Israel Saturday evening hit a garage in Kibbutz Yir’on and caused damage, according to the IDF. No casualties were reported.
  • The IDF says it carried out new airstrikes on in the southern Lebanese village of Yaroun, including on a Hezbollah command centre and another building used by the terror group. The IDF says it also struck a Hezbollah observation post in Maroun al-Ras.
  • IDF Spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said yesterday evening that the IDF has attacked more than 3,400 Hezbollah targets so far in the war. He went on to say that Israel has killed more than 200 terrorists, has destroyed roughly 40 arms storerooms that were hidden in the area of the Israeli border, and has destroyed roughly 120 Hezbollah observation posts.
  • “The security reality in the north is already being remoulded now and will continue to be remoulded moving ahead. We won’t revert to the security reality as existed on October 6,” Hagari said. “The State of Israel is a different country. Hezbollah won’t threaten the residents of the north and deceive the world.”
  • Gallant met with Biden’s Special Adviser to the Middle East Amos Hochstein and said that Israel is willing to solve the crisis with Lebanon through diplomacy, but is prepared for any other scenario.

Red Sea: Over the weekend, the US, UK and other allies conducted strikes against 36 Houthi targets at 13 locations, in what was their third round of joint military action.

  • According to US Central Command (CENTCOM), US forces “conducted a strike in self-defence against a Houthi… land attack cruise missile,” and later struck “four anti-ship cruise missiles, all of which were prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea”.
  • American forces “identified the missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined they presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region.”
  • In a statement on Sunday, Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdulsalam said that continued US-British ‘aggression’ in Yemen will not achieve any goal for the aggressors and will not affect Yemen’s decision to show its support for Gaza.
  • Iran has issued a warning to the US over potentially targeting two cargo ships in the Mideast suspected of serving as a forwarding operating base for Iranian commandos.

Context: Some Israeli officials believe the delay in Hamas responding is technical in nature; others believe it stems from deep differences of opinion within Hamas over substantive issues.

  • Reports emerged over the weekend about differences of opinion between Hamas’s Gaza leadership, headed by Yahya Sinwar, and Hamas’s overseas leadership, headed by Ismail Haniya. Those in Gaza allegedly want a deal now while Hamas officials based overseas insist that any deal be contingent upon a complete end to the war.
  • It appears Hamas is demanding the right to draw up the list of Palestinian prisoners to be freed from Israeli jails. These include Marwan Barghouti, long considered to be an important “symbol” of Palestinian resistance; Ahmad Sadaat, serving a 30-year sentence for the murder of Transportation Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001; and Abdullah Barghouti, a Hamas member who served as commander of Hamas’ West Bank military wing and was sentenced to 67 life-term sentences.
  • The Israeli cabinet has discussed a 142-day ceasefire. The proposal that has been made calls for 35 hostages to be released in the first round during a 42-day pause in the fighting—one day of paused fighting for each freed hostage and another seven days of negotiations to conclude the next round. After that round, there will be 100 hostages remaining in captivity, meaning the pause is likely to last 100 more days.
  • Israeli security cabinet members disagree on the length of the ceasefire.
  • There are 136 hostages, alive and dead, who have now been held in Gaza for 122 days.
  • The area of Rafah remains a challenge for the IDF. Four Hamas battalions are tasked with maintaining Hamas’s control over the area in which there are also significant smuggling routes. Approximately 1.4 million Palestinians are in Rafah. Some Israeli officials believe that with an orderly plan to move them, the conditions can be created for a manoeuvre. Such a step would constitute a de facto defeat of Hamas’s military wing even without reaching its leadership.
  • Egypt is concerned that if the fighting is extended to Rafah, many of these 1.4 million Palestinians will be forced to flee over the border into the Egyptian Sinai. It recently relayed very stern messages to Israel warning that any movement of Palestinian refugees into the Peninsula would jeopardise the peace treaty between the two countries.
  • Israel and Egypt are reportedly considering the option of relocating the border crossing in Rafah to the Kerem Shalom area, placing it near the three-way Israel-Gaza-Egypt border. According to Channel 13 the goal is to facilitate ongoing Egyptian involvement at the crossing so as to avoid clashing with it over that issue, on the one hand, while simultaneously allowing for the crossing to be on the Israeli border as well as to facilitate Israeli security inspections, on the other.

Looking ahead: During his current trip to the region, Blinken will visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He is due to continue the diplomatic efforts to reach an agreement that will free all of the remaining hostages in Gaza.

  • The newly appointed French foreign minister, Stéphane Séjourné, is slated to begin a first round of visits to the Middle East today. He will travel to Egypt, then Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Séjourné’s last stop will be Lebanon.