Israel, Hamas in Advanced Talks to Release 50 More Gaza Hostages: Senior Official

Israel, Hamas in Advanced Talks to Release 50 More Gaza Hostages: Senior Official

Negotiations reportedly hit snag over terror group’s demand that Israel allow fuel, more humanitarian aid into Strip; Israel said to refuse unless all 220 hostages are released.

Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, speaks to reporters at Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv after being freed from Hamas captivity on Oct. 24, 2023 // Photo Credit: Carrie Keller-Lynn/Times of Israel
Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, speaks to reporters at Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv after being freed from Hamas captivity on Oct. 24, 2023 // Photo Credit: Carrie Keller-Lynn/Times of Israel

Israel and Hamas are in advanced negotiations through Egypt and Qatar for the terror organization to release 50 more hostages who were taken captive into Gaza during the organization’s Oct. 7 onslaught, a senior diplomatic official told The Times of Israel on Monday.

The talks made progress over the past two days before hitting a snag on Monday, the senior official said, confirming an earlier story in The Wall Street Journal, which reported that Hamas began conditioning the release of 50 dual nationals on Israel allowing fuel into Gaza.

Israel has pushed back on the demand, saying it will only allow the entry of fuel into Gaza if all of the roughly 220 hostages are released, the WSJ report said.

Israel supporters show placards with the faces and names of people believed to be taken hostage and held in Gaza, during a protest in Trafalgar Square, London, Oct. 22, 2023 // Photo Credit: AP Photo/Frank Augstein/Times of Israel

Not all of the hostages are believed to be in Hamas captivity, as Palestinian Islamic Jihad has also claimed to be holding 30 of its own and unaffiliated Palestinians reportedly participated in the massacre, taking captives in the process as well.

Thomas White, the Gaza director of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said Monday that the agency has only three days of fuel left for its trucks. Distribution of aid will grind to a halt when it can no longer fuel its trucks, the UN said.

Gaza hospitals are also struggling to keep generators running to power life-saving medical equipment and incubators for premature babies.

Composite of hostages held in Gaza by Hamas after the invasion of 2,500 terrorists into Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, in which 1,400 people were slaughtered and some 220 taken captive // Courtesy the Kidnapped From Israel campaign website/ Dede Bandaid, Nitzan Mintz & Tal Huber. Designed by Shira Gershoni & Yotam Kellner/Times of Israel

However, Israel feels certain that any fuel will be commandeered by Hamas to use for military purposes, as Israel prepares to invade the territory and eliminate the terror group.

Hamas has also threatened to execute hostages if Israel continues its aerial bombardment of Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Joe Biden discussed the hostage crisis in a phone call on Monday, during which Biden welcomed the release of a second pair of captives from Gaza hours earlier.

Biden “reaffirmed his commitment to ongoing efforts to secure the release of all the remaining hostages taken by Hamas – including 10 Americans – and to provide for safe passage for U.S. citizens and other civilians in Gaza,” the White House said in its readout.

The U.S. president “also underscored the need to sustain a continuous flow of urgently needed humanitarian assistance into Gaza; updated the prime minister on U.S. support for Israel and ongoing efforts at regional deterrence, to include new U.S. military deployments,” the White House said.

Nurit Cooper (left) and Yocheved Lifshitz
// Photo Courtesy Times of Israel

On Saturday, a senior diplomatic official told The Times of Israel that the U.S. and several European countries were quietly pushing Israel to temporarily hold off on launching a ground incursion in order to give more time for hostage negotiations.

The New York Times also reported on Monday that US officials don’t think that the IDF is ready for a ground invasion, as it doesn’t have achievable goals for the mission.

The IDF, for its part, insisted earlier in the day that it was in fact ready to invade Gaza and indicated that it was Israel’s political leadership that was holding it back.

The two hostages freed Monday evening after 17 days in captivity, Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, were released from Gaza into Egypt late Monday, and were then transferred to the IDF, which brought them to an Israeli hospital for examination.

Both of their husbands are believed to be still held hostage by Hamas. The couples were taken captive on Oct. 7 from their homes in Kibbutz Nir Oz. Many others were slaughtered by Hamas terrorists in the community.

Israel thanked both Egypt and the Red Cross for their roles in freeing and transporting Lifshitz and Cooper, and vowed to “continue to work to the best of our abilities and with full effort to locate all the missing and bring all the hostages home.”

The spokesperson for Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, said the terror group had released the two Israeli hostages for “humanitarian reasons,” following Egyptian and Qatari mediation.

Natalie Raanan, 3rd left, Judith Raanan, right, are seen upon arrival in Israel after being released from Hamas captivity as government hostage envoy Gal Hirsch, center, holds their hands, Oct. 20, 2023 // Courtesy Photo/Times of Israel

On Saturday, Abu Obeida claimed that the terror group wanted to release the same two hostages, but that Israel declined to accept them. Following the claim, Netanyahu’s office said it would not respond to “Hamas’s propaganda lies.”

There was no immediate indication why Cooper and Lifshitz were selected for release, other than their advanced age and potential health complications. Lifshitz’s daughter, Sharone, had said her mother uses oxygen when she sleeps and suffers from significant back pain. Cooper’s son, Rotem, had told a local U.S. TV network that “they might not survive if they don’t get their medicines.”

Neither of them were reported to have dual citizenship like Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie, who were the first two hostages released on Friday.

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