Israel skips key ceasefire meeting with Hamas over unanswered hostage questions, official says


Israel did not send a delegation to a Sunday ceasefire meeting with Hamas in Egypt due to lingering questions about hostages, an Israeli government official told The Associated Press.

The official spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the disputes with the media.

A Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo for the talks, billed as a possible final hurdle before an agreement that would halt the fighting in Gaza for six weeks. But by the evening, there was no sign of the Israelis.

Israeli media reported that the government is waiting to learn which hostages are alive and how many Palestinian prisoners Hamas seeks in exchange for each.

“There is no Israeli delegation in Cairo,” Ynet, the online version of Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, quoted unidentified Israeli officials as saying. “Hamas refuses to provide clear answers and therefore there is no reason to dispatch the Israeli delegation.”

WATCH | ‘Understanding’ reached for temporary ceasefire, U.S. says: 

U.S. says ‘understanding’ reached for temporary Israel-Hamas ceasefire

According to a senior U.S. official, an “understanding” outlining the parameters for a temporary pause in fighting in Gaza has been reached, and more negotiations are expected in Qatar this week.

Washington, a key ally of Israel, has insisted the ceasefire deal is close and should be in place in time to halt fighting by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a week away. But the warring sides have given little sign in public of backing away from previous demands.

After the Hamas delegation arrived, a Palestinian official told Reuters the deal was “not yet there.” There was no official comment from Israel.

One source briefed on the talks had said on Saturday that Israel could stay away from Cairo unless Hamas first presented its full list of hostages who are still alive. A Palestinian source told Reuters that Hamas had so far rejected that demand.

In past negotiations, Hamas has sought to avoid discussing the well-being of individual hostages until after terms for their release are set.

People walk past posters of missing people on a wall with Israeli flags in the background
People walk past posters with photos of hostages kidnapped by Hamas in Tel Aviv on Saturday. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

An agreement would bring the first extended truce of the war, which has raged for five months so far with just a week-long pause in November; dozens of hostages held by the militants would be freed in return for hundreds of Palestinian detainees during that time.

Israel declared war on Hamas following an Oct. 7 attack that saw 1,200 people killed and some 250 kidnapped by the Islamist militants, according to Israeli tallies. The government believes some 130 captives remain in Gaza, but officials believe at least 31 hostages are dead.

The subsequent military operation by Israel in Hamas-controlled Gaza has now killed more than 30,000 people, most of them women and children, Gaza health officials say.

Around 80 per cent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled their homes, and UN agencies say hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are on the brink of famine.

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