Monday, June 17, 2024

US considering unilateral agreement with Hamas to free American captives: Report

US officials have discussed the possibility of arranging a unilateral deal with Hamas to secure the release of five American captives in the Gaza Strip if the ongoing negotiations with Israel for a cease-fire fail, according to a report.

Such negotiations would exclude Israel and would be mediated by Qatari interlocutors, as has been the case with the ongoing discussions, according to NBC News on Monday, citing two current and two former US officials.

The Joe Biden administration believes that Hamas is holding five American hostages who were kidnapped during the Oct. 7 attack.

The officials also seek to retrieve the remains of three additional US citizens who are believed to have been killed on the same day by Hamas, which then transported their bodies into Gaza.

The officials were uncertain about what the US might give Hamas in return for the release of American captives, the report added.

“But, the officials said, Hamas could have an incentive to cut a unilateral deal with the US because doing so would likely further strain relations between the US and Israel and put additional domestic political pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” it said.

One of the former officials said the internal discussions have also taken place in the context of whether the possibility of the US cutting a unilateral deal with Hamas might pressure Netanyahu to agree to a version of the current cease-fire proposal, according to the report.

On Saturday, the Israeli army freed four hostages during a military operation in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

During the operation, at least 274 Palestinians were killed and 700 others injured in a bombardment of the camp, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

The Israeli operation will likely make even more difficult US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s endeavors to secure an agreement and release the remaining hostages, a senior administration official told NBC News.

Securing the release of the Israeli hostages has only bolstered Netanyahu’s resolve to persist with military operations in Gaza, rather than committing to cease the conflict, according to the official.

“The current senior US official, though, said the idea of a trying to negotiate a deal between the Biden administration and Hamas remained a ‘very real option’ if the current proposed ceasefire deal fails to advance,” the report noted.

More than 37,100 Palestinians have since been killed in Gaza, most of them women and children, and nearly 84,700 others injured, according to local health authorities.

Eight months into the Israeli war, vast tracts of Gaza lay in ruins amid a crippling blockade of food, clean water, and medicine.

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