Gaza ceasefire talks fail to make breakthrough with Ramadan approaching

Three days of negotiations end at an impasse, as Hamas and Israel insist the other give in to their demands.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during his meeting with Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani at the State Department in Washington
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during his meeting with Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

Three days of negotiations with Hamas over a ceasefire in Gaza have failed to achieve a breakthrough, less than a week before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – the informal deadline for a deal.

The United States, Qatar and Egypt have spent weeks trying to broker an agreement in which Hamas would release Israeli captives in return for a six-week ceasefire, the release of some Palestinian prisoners and more aid to Gaza.

Al Jazeera’s Hamdah Salhut said on Tuesday that the latest round of talks in Cairo, Egypt, has “ended with a standstill” and that it was unclear what would happen next.

“The Israelis say they are waiting for Hamas’s response, while Hamas says they are awaiting for Israel’s response,” she said, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem

“Mediators in the middle are trying to bridge these gaps trying to find a solution between both sides, but it seems that there are sticking points that just can’t seem to be resolved.”

Hamas has refused to release all of the estimated 100 hostages it holds, and the remains of about 30 more, unless Israel ends its offensive, withdraws from Gaza and releases a large number of Palestinian prisoners, including fighters serving life sentences.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said on Tuesday that his group wants a permanent ceasefire, rather than a six-week pause, and a “complete withdrawal” of Israeli forces.

“The security and safety of our people will be achieved only by a permanent ceasefire, the end of the aggression and the withdrawal from every inch of the Gaza Strip,” Hamdan told reporters in Beirut.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly rejected those demands and repeatedly pledged to continue the war until Hamas is dismantled and all the captives are returned. Israel did not send a delegation to the latest round of talks.

Meanwhile, Israel wants Hamas to hand over a list of captives who are alive, as well as the captive-to-prisoner ratio it seeks in any release deal.

Senior Hamas leader Bassem Naim told the AFP news agency on Monday that the group did not know “who among [the captives] are alive or dead, killed because of strikes or hunger”, and that the captives were being held by numerous groups in multiple places.

“So there are two completely different perspectives and two different sticking points here on what the other side is not willing to compromise on,” Salhut said.

At US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue talks on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Hamas to accept the ceasefire plan.

“It is on Hamas to make decisions about whether it is prepared to engage in that ceasefire,” the top US diplomat said as he met Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Washington, DC, in the US.

“Qatar, the United States and our partners will be always persistent to make sure that this deal happens,” said Al Thani, standing next to Blinken.

With the latest round of discussions having come to an end, Hamas has presented a proposal that mediators will discuss with Israel in the coming days, two Egyptian officials said, according to The Associated Press news agency.

At least 1,139 people were killed and about 250 captives were taken in Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on October 7. More than 100 captives were released during a weeklong ceasefire in November.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive on Gaza has killed more than 30,000 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

The nearly five months of fighting have left much of Gaza in ruins and created a worsening humanitarian catastrophe, with many, especially in the devastated northern region, scrambling for food to survive.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies