Isaac Herzog also thanked Egypt for its "very active and positive" stance in putting forward proposals despite the "complex circumstances"

Israel's president does not consider negotiations with Hamas on hostage release serious

Isaac Herzog - PHOTO/FILE
PHOTO/FILE - Isaac Herzog

Israel's president, Isaac Herzog, said in an interview with EFE on Thursday that negotiations with the Islamist group Hamas for the release of hostages kidnapped in the Gaza Strip are not serious. 

"I am not sure that the negotiations are real," Herzog said today. "To be honest, I still don't see a serious response from Hamas," he said in an interview at the presidential residence in Jerusalem. 

"I see that there is back and forth. I know there is a mediation process by Qatar," added the president, who expressed fears, however, that Hamas is playing "psychological games to drive Israel crazy". 

"This is the time to offer something and show their seriousness about the release of hostages, starting with the children and women," Herzog said, referring to the potential release of at least some of the 239 captives in Gaza who were kidnapped during the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October. 

The president also thanked Egypt for its "very active and positive" stance in putting forward proposals despite the "complex circumstances". 

Asked whether Israel was ready to embark on a prisoner exchange, as Hamas had requested, he said, "We are still far from that, we don't know if they (negotiations) are serious". 

The Israeli president also said that Hamas's Gaza leader, Yahya Sinwar, "is a Hitler-style megalomaniac" who "does not understand the ability of humans to talk". 

These statements come shortly after US President Joe Biden acknowledged that his country's role in the last few hours is to try to mediate with Qatar to get the Palestinian Islamist group to agree to the release of some of the hostages. 

"I have slight hopes (...) I have been deeply involved in advancing the hostage negotiations," Biden said yesterday at a press conference following his bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

According to Arab sources with knowledge of the state of the negotiations, Qatar is leading the mediation between Israel and Hamas to free 50 hostages, mainly women and children, in exchange for the release of Palestinian women and children detained in Israeli prisons and a temporary five-day ceasefire. 

A Hamas source told EFE that "Israel and Hamas are close to reaching a prisoner exchange agreement". 

According to this source, there is already a "preliminary agreement" to carry out this exchange of civilians, but "there is a disagreement over the number" as "Hamas wants to free 50, while Israel insists that they free 100". 

Another Palestinian source said that an "understanding has been reached on the broad outlines of the deal" between Qatar as mediator and Hamas political chief Ismail Haniye, although it has yet to be presented to the movement's military wing in Gaza, led by Yahya Sinwar. 

According to sources, part of the problem in the negotiations is that the Hamas political leadership in Qatar is not the decision-maker on the ground, which is the military wing of the movement in the Strip, and that each round of talks takes "two or three days". 

Yet the rounds of talks continue in itinerant venues, both in Doha, the Qatari capital, and in Egypt, with the participation also of the United States, with the aim of reaching a final agreement between the two sides as soon as possible. 

The chain of intermediaries involves Israel, the US, Qatar and Egypt meeting first and then conveying the message to Hamas leaders in Doha and then in Gaza.