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Hostage Negotiations Stalled Due to Hamas' Demand for Fuel Supplies to Gaza

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Negotiations for the release of some of the 239 hostages held by Hamas have stalled on Friday after the group demanded that Israel allow fuel supplies into the Gaza Strip, and Hamas refused to guarantee the release of a large number of foreign hostages, according to a former U.S. official familiar with the negotiations.

"Hamas insists on receiving fuel," said the former American official, who asked not to be named as they were not authorized to speak publicly. "Israel, the U.S., and other countries want to release most of their citizens."

A former U.S. official, an Israeli official, and a diplomat familiar with the negotiations all stated that the talks broke down before Israel launched the second phase of its offensive on Friday evening, sending ground troops into the Gaza Strip.

"Negotiations were going very well on Thursday, and negotiators hoped that a deal could be reached over the weekend," said the diplomat familiar with the negotiations, who was also not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. "But disagreements arose early on Friday, leading to a stalemate in the negotiations."

Negotiations for the release of the 239 hostages, including children and elderly individuals, have been ongoing since October 7, following a sudden terrorist attack by Hamas that resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 Israeli civilians. After Hamas breached Israel's border wall, other groups in Gaza also took hostages.

Approximately half of the hostages are individuals holding passports from 25 foreign countries, including approximately 54 Thais, 15 Argentinians, 12 Americans, 12 Germans, six French, and six Russians.

Earlier negotiations mediated by Qatar led to the release of four hostages, two Americans, and two elderly women, on two separate days.

Looking back, public statements from White House officials on Friday were part of efforts to secure the release of American hostages. "We will support humanitarian pauses for the entry of goods and for the exit of people," said White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby to reporters on Friday. "This includes a desire to ensure the entry of fuel and the restoration of electricity."

Jason Straziuso, a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which acted as a mediator in the first two hostage releases, said that releasing a large number of hostages would require a high level of trust.

"With a large group, logistics become much more complicated. There's a limit to how many people we can fit in Red Cross Land Cruisers. There's a limit to how many vehicles we have in the Gaza Strip. There's a limit to how much fuel we have right now," Straziuso said. "A large-scale release would require much more planning, much more trust between the parties, much more trust that this can happen without incident."

By Friday evening, trust had evaporated. Israeli officials accused Hamas of stalling negotiations in an attempt to delay a ground invasion. They strongly denied reports of progress in the hostage negotiations. "I suggest not paying attention to rumors," said Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagar. "This is psychological terror on the part of Hamas."

Following intensified Israeli airstrikes and ground operations in the Gaza Strip on Friday, Hamas representative Dr. Basem Naim said on Saturday to NBC News, "One cannot speak of negotiations while they are killing our people."

Later the same day, Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar said in a statement on the group's website that they were ready to continue negotiations. "We are ready for an immediate exchange deal that includes the release of all prisoners in Zionist enemy prisons," Sinwar said, "in exchange for the release of all prisoners involved in the resistance."

The Times of Israel reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a press conference on Saturday evening that exchanging all Palestinians imprisoned for security offenses for hostages held in the Gaza Strip was one of the options Israel was considering.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told reporters that intensifying Israeli attacks was the best way to secure the release of hostages. "The more we hit [Hamas], the more we know that they will be ready to reach some agreement," Gallant said, "and we can bring our beloved hostages home."

Negotiators remain hopeful. The former U.S. official said that negotiations were in a "temporary deadlock." The diplomat familiar with the negotiations added, "The escalation in negotiations has slowed them down, but they are still ongoing."