Israel Backing Off Hostage Talks, Draws Up Civilian Evacuation Plans For Rafah Assault

Prospects for a new Israel-Hamas ceasefire are fading fast, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week slammed Hamas' "delusional" demands. Key among these was a call for total withdrawal of Israeli military forces from the Gaza Strip. 

But a new Times of Israel report says that Israeli negotiators are not seeking to come up with new terms for a deal, but are instead trying to pressure Hamas to withdraw the "delusional" terms.

"The main target now is to create pressure from the Americans and other countries on Qatar, and from there on Hamas, in addition to the military pressure, to bring them down from their delusional demands," said an official cited in the report.

Starting Wednesday Hamas presented its more detailed response to the Israeli plan. It outlined a 135-day ceasefire during which time all hostages would go free in stages, and Israel would withdraw its forces. Below are the proposed stages:

  • Phase one: A 45-day pause in fighting during which all Israeli women hostages, males under 19, the elderly and sick would be exchanged for Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails. Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas of Gaza and the reconstruction of hospitals and refugee camps would begin

  • Phase two: Remaining male Israeli hostages would be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners and Israeli forces leave Gaza completely

  • Phase three: Both sides would exchange remains and bodies

Some 1,500 Palestinians would be released from Israeli jails, which includes a third of these serving life sentences for heinous crimes like murder and assassinations.

As of Thursday the White House said that negotiations were still ongoing, which suggests the Biden administration is still holding out hope that an agreement can be reached, despite Netanyahu having clearly rejected the above while saying there was "no solution besides total victory."

According to more from the Thursday Times of Israel report, "The US, along with mediators Egypt and Qatar, has continued to push for a hostage release agreement that would be accompanied by a truce, with a Hamas delegation arriving in Cairo Thursday for negotiations." Additionally, "Egypt pressured Israel to also send representatives but Jerusalem refused to do so, according to Channel 12 news.

Currently, Netanyahu is threatening an all-out assault on the southern city of Rahah, even as it's packed with hundreds of thousands of refugees - some reports say over one million. The White House has urged an evacuation of civilians first, and on Friday Israeli officials are signaling the military will allow a humanitarian exit corridor.

President Biden added to the pressure by calling Israel's military response "over the top" in a Thursday night speech...

According to his latest words Friday, Netanyahu said in a written statement, "It is impossible to achieve the war goal of eliminating Hamas and leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah."

Crucially the statement added: "On the other hand, it is clear that a massive operation in Rafah requires the evacuation of the civilian population from the combat zones."

The Israeli leader has ordered the IDF and Defense Ministry to draw up options for a civilian evacuation. But one key question is: where will they go?

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