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Hamas not responding to attempts to get hostage negotiations back on track


Hamas not responding to attempts to get hostage negotiations back on track

Leon Neal/Getty Images/FILE

People look at photographs of some of those taken hostage by Hamas in Tel Aviv, Israel, on October 18.


Hamas has been unresponsive to overtures made in recent days to try to restart hostage negotiations, a source familiar with the efforts told CNN, as the US and other mediators try to resurrect talks that would see more hostages who were abducted on October 7 be released from captivity.

Qatar – which continues to play the role of interlocutor – has relayed to Hamas new ideas to try to get more hostages out of Gaza, including a potential deal that would include the release of not just the remaining women hostages, but men as well, according to one source familiar with the efforts and a senior US official.

“There’s not an active negotiation, but there’s a real exploration of ideas for how to get this going,” the senior US official said.

But Hamas has not been responsive to the outreach, the source familiar said.

Qatar speaks with Hamas political officials in Gaza who then relay messages to the group’s leadership inside the strip who are actively trying to avoid detection by Israel. US officials had said getting answers from Hamas was an incredibly cumbersome process during the first round of negotiations that led to a series of hostages being released. It may now be even harder for Hamas leaders to engage in talks now given the Israeli focus on hunting them down.

At the same time, Israel, which resumed its military operation against Hamas after a seven-day truce, believes that its offensive targeting southern Gaza – and particularly Khan Younis – should exert additional pressure on Hamas that could prove to be helpful in the release of more hostages, sources said. Some US officials agree the military pressure may have the effect of eventually driving Hamas back to the negotiating table.

It “may be a moment for Hamas to reconsider coming back to the table in a real way,” the senior US official said.

Since hostage talks that had been taking place in the Qatari capital of Doha broke down earlier this month, formal negotiations have not resumed. But Israel, the US and Qatar have continued to discuss ways to try to jump start the discussions again, multiple sources said, with more than 100 hostages believed to still be held in Gaza. “We never stopped,” one source familiar with the discussions said.

The Israeli prime minister’s office believes there are 135 hostages that remain in Gaza, 116 of whom are alive.

Israel’s view that Hamas must first release the remaining female hostages remains unchanged, according to sources. Hamas has refused to do that, arguing that the remaining women are considered soldiers – a claim that Israel rejects.

The White House has said that eight Americans – seven men and one woman – still remain unaccounted for.

The seeming lack of progress on hostages release comes as President Joe Biden is set to meet in-person for the first time with some of the families of the American hostages on Wednesday at the White House.

Meanwhile, Israel has informed the US that they have begun “carefully testing out” flooding some of Hamas’ tunnels with seawater “on a limited basis” to see if it will work to degrade the group’s tunnel network on a larger scale. The Israelis have assured their American counterparts that they’re only doing this in tunnels where they do not believe hostages are being held.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Biden said he has heard “assertions” that there are no hostages currently being held in those tunnels, but that his administration has not been able to confirm that beyond a doubt: “I don’t know that for a fact,” he said.

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