Gaza cease-fire talks fail to achieve a breakthrough with Ramadan just days away, Egypt says


CAIRO (AP) — Three days of negotiations with Hamas over a cease-fire in Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages failed to achieve a breakthrough Tuesday, Egyptian officials said, less than a week before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the informal deadline for a deal.

The United States, Qatar and Egypt have spent weeks trying to broker an agreement in which Hamas would release up to 40 hostages in return for a six-week cease-fire, the release of some Palestinian prisoners and an influx of aid to the isolated territory.

Two Egyptian officials said the latest round of discussions ended Tuesday. They said Hamas presented a proposal that mediators would discuss with Israel in the coming days. One of the officials said mediators will meet with the Hamas delegation, which didn’t leave Cairo on Wednesday.

Hamas has refused to release all of the estimated 100 hostages it holds, and the remains of around 30 more, unless Israel ends its offensive, withdraws from Gaza and releases a large number of Palestinian prisoners, including senior militants serving life sentences.

U.S. officials have said they are skeptical Hamas actually wants a deal because the group has balked at a number of what the U.S. and others believe are legitimate requests, including giving the names of hostages to be released.

“It is on Hamas to make decisions about whether it is prepared to engage,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday.

“We have an opportunity for an immediate cease-fire that can bring hostages home, that can dramatically increase the amount of humanitarian aid getting in to Palestinians who so desperately need it, and can set the conditions for an enduring resolution,” Blinken said.

A Hamas spokesperson said Israel had thus far refused Hamas' demands for people who fled northern Gaza to be allowed to return and for guarantees of a long-term cease-fire and full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly rejected Hamas' demands and repeatedly vowed to continue the war until Hamas is dismantled and all the hostages are returned. Israel did not send a delegation to the latest round of talks.

An Israeli official said Israel was still waiting for Hamas to hand over a list of hostages who are alive as well as the hostage-to-prisoner ratio it seeks in any release deal. It was not clear if that information was included in the latest proposal.

The Israeli and Egyptian officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media on the negotiations.

Mediators had hoped to broker an agreement ahead of Ramadan, the month of dawn-to-dusk fasting that often sees heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions linked to access to a major holy site in Jerusalem. It is expected to begin around March 10, depending on the sighting of the moon.

“The negotiations are sensitive. I can’t say there is optimism or pessimism, but we haven’t yet reached a point at which we can achieve a cease-fire," Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Monday.

The war began with a Hamas attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people and took around 250 hostages. More than 100 of them were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November.

The attack sparked an Israeli invasion of the enclave of 2.3 million people that Gaza's Hamas-controlled Health Ministry claims has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians.

Israel is still carrying out strikes in all parts of Gaza and has threatened to expand its ground offensive to the southernmost city of Rafah, where around half of Gaza's population has sought refuge.

Israel says it tries to avoid harming civilians and blames the high toll on Hamas because the militants operate in dense, residential areas. But the army rarely accounts for individual strikes, which often kill women and children.