US: Obstacles in Gaza hostage talks not insurmountable

The United States continued to project optimism as the prospects for a hostage deal by the start of Ramadan on Sunday seemed to dim and talks in Cairo failed to yield any perceivable progress.

“We continue to believe that the obstacles are not insurmountable and that a deal can be reached,” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.

Such a “deal is in the interest of Israel. It’s in the interest of the Palestinian people, and it’s in the interest of the broader region. So we’re going to continue to push for one.”

Miller said that Israel had “put a serious proposal on the table, and it’s for Hamas to accept it. It’s also for Hamas to engage in good faith and show that they actually want to get a deal.

Staff and volunteers of Amnesty International USA, MoveOn, Oxfam America and Win Without War hold a vigil outside the White House calling for a ceasefire in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Washington, U.S., December 18, 2023. (credit: REUTERS/Leah Millis )

“And we’re going to continue to engage in good faith on our behalf and continue to try to get a deal over the finish line,” Miller said.

The US believes that a deal is “possible, and we’re going to continue to push for it,” he stressed.

In Cairo, Egyptian and Qatari officials mediating the deal met with Hamas, in an attempt to secure a six-week pause to the war in exchange for the release of 40 remaining 134 hostages.

Hamas pledged to continue to take part in the Cairo talks, but officials in the terror group said a ceasefire must be in place before hostages are freed, Israeli forces must leave Gaza and all Gazans must be able to return to homes they have fled.

“We are showing the required flexibility in order to reach a comprehensive cessation of aggression against our people, but the “occupation” is still evading the entitlements of this agreement,” Hamas said in a statement.

Israel reportedly staying away from talks

A source had said earlier that Israel was staying away from the Cairo talks because Hamas refused to provide a list of hostages who are still alive. Hamas says this is impossible without a ceasefire as hostages are scattered across the war zone.

The deal presented to Hamas for Gaza would allow for increased humanitarian assistance and for the release of 400 Palestinian security prisoners and terrorists jailed in Israel.

Hamas says any hostages cannot be released until after a ceasefire. Israel wants a pause in fighting that includes a hostage release. It has agreed to increased assistance, but will not end the conflict before Hamas is “eliminated.”

Senior Hamas official Bassem Naim said the Islamist group presented its own draft deal and was awaiting a response from Israel, and that “the ball now is in the Americans’ court.”