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Israeli delegation returns from Cairo without breakthrough in hostage negotiations

| Published: February 14, 2024  

The Israeli delegation to hostage negotiations in Cairo, Egypt, returned late Tuesday evening without any breakthrough in the stalled talks. 

The talks involved representatives from the US, Egypt, Israel, and Qatar, who is acting as a mediator for the Hamas terror group. 

The Israeli delegation was to consist of 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 Netanyahu refused to allow the Israeli team to present new ideas in the discussions. 

There were conflicting reports about the negotiations, however. Reports from Israel’s Channel 13 News and Lebanese news site Al-Akhbar, said the Israeli team did suggest terms which were different from the Paris outline. Al-Akhbar is affiliated with the Hezbollah terror group. 

The Paris 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 released during the first phase. In the second phase Israeli soldiers would be released, with bodies of dead hostages released in the third phase. 

According to the 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 same exchange of 3 Palestinian prisoners for every 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 US 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, about 30 of whom are presumed dead. 

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

A US official familiar with the talks said, “The talks were good, but there is no breakthrough yet.” 

He also said that a significant disagreement is “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.