Ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas are once again at an impasse

The latest round of negotiations between Israel and Hamas reached a stalemate on Sunday, as mediators struggled to fill remaining gaps and a Hamas delegation walked out of talks in Cairo, according to two senior Hamas officials and two other officials who they were familiar with interviews. An Israeli official also confirmed that negotiations had stalled and described them as being in “crisis.”

For months, negotiations aimed at reaching a ceasefire and the release of hostages made little progress, but signs emerged in the last week that the two sides were moving closer to a deal. Israel has backtracked on some of its long-standing demands and a senior Hamas official said the group was studying the latest Israeli offer in a “positive spirit.”

But the setback over the weekend meant Palestinians living in miserable conditions in Gaza would not enjoy an imminent reprieve and the families of hostages held by militants would have to wait longer for their children's freedom Dear.

The main obstacle in the talks has been the length of the ceasefire, with Hamas calling for it to be permanent and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing openness only to a temporary halt to the fighting.

Hamas has blamed the lack of progress on Netanyahu, who in recent days has again promised that the Israeli army will invade Rafah, the southernmost city of the Gaza Strip, with or without a deal.

“We were very close, but Netanyahu's narrow-mindedness scuppered a deal,” Mousa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official, said in a telephone interview.

Netanyahu has declared for weeks his intention to mount a ground offensive aimed at Rafah, where about a million Palestinians have taken refuge. The Biden administration has been pressuring Israel to refrain from undertaking a major operation in the city.

On Sunday, Hamas fired about 10 rockets from the Rafah border crossing area, killing three soldiers near the Kerem Shalom crossing, according to the Israeli army. Hamas rocket attacks have been relatively rare in recent months, and Israel said it responded with airstrikes against the launch site.

The Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Israel and Hamas were closer to an agreement a couple of days ago, but that Netanyahu's statements on Rafah had forced Hamas to toughen its demands in an effort to ensure that Israeli forces won. do not enter the city. Hamas, the official said, is now seeking further guarantees that Israel will not implement only part of the agreement and then resume fighting.

The official complained that Hamas and Israel had switched gears to play a “blame game.”

Two U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, rejected the idea that the talks were at an impasse, suggesting that the sides were still reviewing details of the most recent proposals.

Netanyahu and the United States argue that Hamas was delaying the deal. Netanyahu said on Sunday that he would not agree to a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and an end to the war. Suppressing such demands, he said, would allow Hamas to reestablish control over Gaza, rebuild its military capabilities and threaten communities across Israel.

“It is Hamas that is delaying the release of our hostages,” he said. “We are working in every way possible to free the hostages; this is our top priority.”

An Israeli delegation never arrived in Cairo for the latest round of talks. The Israeli official said that Israel sought a written response from Hamas to its latest proposal before sending a delegation, but that the group never forwarded one.

Abu Marzouk said Hamas would have liked Israel to be present at the talks in Cairo, where it could work through mediators to clarify “vague” points in Israel's latest offer, including the duration of the ceasefire.

“The ceasefire must be permanent and fixed,” he said.

Mr. Abu Marzouk was the only one of the officials who spoke about the talks to allow his name to be used. The others spoke on condition of anonymity to address the sensitive topic or because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Hamas, Abu Marzouk said, believes Netanyahu wants a deal that would allow Israel to invade Rafah after the hostages are released.

“This is Netanyahu's plan,” he said.

A technical team from Qatar's Foreign Ministry also left the Egyptian capital on Sunday, two officials briefed on the talks said. Bill Burns, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, met with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Doha on Sunday to discuss resuming talks, one of the officials said.

Hamas's political leadership will meet in Doha on Monday to discuss what has happened in Cairo over the past two days, but the group intends to continue participating in negotiations with “positivity,” said one of Hamas' senior officials, who spoke to condition of anonymity.

An article in Al-Qahera News, an Egyptian state television channel, said a Hamas delegation would return to Cairo on Tuesday, but the top Hamas official said the group had not yet made a decision.

Peter Baker AND Michael Crowley contributed reporting to this article.

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