Netanyahu halted Gaza truce talks over ‘delusional’ Hamas demands

By Thomson Reuters Feb 17, 2024 | 1:41 PM

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel has sent negotiators for truce talks in Cairo as requested by U.S. President Joe Biden but they did not go back for further talks because Hamas’ demands were “delusional,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday.

Netanyahu also said Israel would not give in to “international dictates” regarding a statehood agreement with the Palestinians, which he said could only be reached through direct negotiations without preconditions.

The Egyptian and Qatari-mediated talks to try to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and secure the release of over 100 Israeli hostages being held in the Hamas-ruled territory have yet to produce results. A round of inconclusive talks in Cairo ended on Tuesday.

Asked during a press conference on Saturday why Israeli negotiators did not return for further talks, Netanyahu said: “We got nothing except for delusional demands from Hamas.”

Those demands, he said, included ending the war and leaving Hamas as it is, freeing “thousands of murderers” from Israeli jails, and even demands regarding a flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem known as the Temple Mount in Judaism and the Noble Sanctuary in Islam.

He said Israeli representatives in Cairo “sat and listened and there was no change. I wanted to say not a millimeter – but there was not a nanometer of change.”

Netanyahu said there was no reason for them to go back “until we see a change.”

The war began when Iran-backed Hamas sent fighters into Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s air and ground offensive has since devastated much of Gaza, killing 28,775 people, also mostly civilians according to Palestinian health authorities, and forcing nearly all of its more than 2 million inhabitants from their homes.

Regarding the possible “unilateral recognition” of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu said there could not be a “bigger prize for terrorism.”

“Israel under my leadership will continue to strongly oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state,” he said. “An arrangement can be reached only through direct negotiations between the sides, without preconditions.”

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh has blamed Israel for a lack of progress in achieving a ceasefire deal in Gaza, the group said in a statement on Saturday.

Haniyeh said Hamas would not accept anything less than a complete cessation of hostilities, Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, and “lifting of the unjust siege,” as well as a release of Palestinian prisoners serving long sentences in Israeli jails.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Mike Harrison)