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Hamas wants regional war not deal, says US as hostage negotiations stall

The US has accused Hamas of stalling a prisoner exchange deal with Israel in the hope of provoking a regional war, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu entered a war of words with his own negotiators.

One former Israeli negotiatior said the country did not have any proposals and that there was “no real negotiation going on at all”, as fears grow that many of the hostages have now died.

Months of indirect discussions between Israel and Hamas in Paris, Cairo, and Doha have failed to produce an agreement that would see Israeli captives and Palestinian prisoners freed and a weeks-long truce in Gaza.

US Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller accused the Palestinian militant group of “moving the goalposts” in negotiations and suggested Hamas leaders favoured an expansion of the war over an agreement, noting the escalation of hostilities between Israel and Iran.

“It certainly does seem like Hamas is more interested in a full-scale regional war,” Mr Miller said, accusing the group of snubbing a “significant proposal”.

“Right now Hamas has signalled that they don’t want an agreement,” he added.

Tehran has signalled that it will not respond to an Israeli strike against a military facility in the central province of Isfahan, raising hopes that the threat of a regional war could be averted.

ISTANBUL, TURKIYE - APRIL 20: Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh attends an exclusive interview with Anadolu in Istanbul, Turkiye on April 20, 2024. (Photo by Arif Hudaverdi Yaman/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Turkey last week (Photo: Arif Hudaverdi Yaman/Anadolu/Getty)

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh reiterated a long-held position that the group would only agree to a permanent rather than a temporary ceasefire on a visit to Turkey on Sunday.

“Israel did not agree to a ceasefire and what it wants is to take back its prisoners and then resume the war, and this will not happen,” he said.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused his negotiating team of “false briefings” that “strengthen Hamas” at a cabinet meeting after Israeli media published reports in which anonymous members accused him of undermining talks.

“I can’t say that without Netanyahu there would have been a deal, but I can say that without Netanyahu, the chances of making a deal would be better,” one of the negotiators told Israel’s Channel 12 News.

Gershon Baskin, a former Israeli negotiator involved in a 2011 deal with Hamas to free soldier Gilad Shalit, agreed that the Prime Minister had undermined negotiators.

“My assessment is strengthened that Israel has no proposals and initiatives in negotiations with Hamas,” he said, citing private information. “In fact, there is no real negotiation going on at all.”

Mr Netanyahu has prioritised the killing of Hamas leaders over the hostages, the former negotiator claimed, adding that only a permanent ceasefire could bring them home.

“They still think that Hamas will agree to release hostages without ending the war and withdrawing from Gaza,” he said. “The chance of releasing hostages without ending the war is close to zero.”

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