Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu stops Gaza ceasefire talks over 'delusional' Hamas demands

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo credit: Reuters.

Israel has sent negotiators for truce talks in Cairo as requested by U.S. President Joe Biden but they did not go back for further talks because Hamas' demands were "delusional," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday.

Netanyahu also said Israel would not give in to "international dictates" regarding a statehood agreement with the Palestinians, which he said could only be reached through direct negotiations without preconditions.

The Egyptian and Qatari-mediated talks to try to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and secure the release of over 100 Israeli hostages being held in the Hamas-ruled territory have yet to produce results. A round of inconclusive talks in Cairo ended on Tuesday.

Asked during a press conference on Saturday why Israeli negotiators did not return for further talks, Netanyahu said: "We got nothing except for delusional demands from Hamas."

Those demands, he said, included ending the war and leaving Hamas as it is, freeing "thousands of murderers" from Israeli jails, and even demands regarding a flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem known as the Temple Mount in Judaism and the Noble Sanctuary in Islam.

He said Israeli representatives in Cairo "sat and listened and there was no change. I wanted to say not a millimeter - but there was not a nanometer of change."

Netanyahu said there was no reason for them to go back "until we see a change".

Adding pressure on Netanyahu to reach a deal with Hamas, thousands of Israelis gathered outside the military headquarters in Tel Aviv in support of the hostages still in Gaza. They held up photographs and signs calling for their release, including one that read: "Time is running out!"

Among them was Michael Levy, whose brother Or was taken hostage from an outdoor dance festival near the Gaza border in the Hamas attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 which triggered the present war.

"We have no time anymore. My brother," he said, pausing to look down at his shirt with his brother's picture, "has lost his wife, (she) was murdered in this horrible attack on October 7. He has a son, a 2-year-old son, who is waiting for him at home."

The Hamas attack killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli tallies. The militants also seized 253 hostages, though more than 100 of them were freed in a short-lived November truce.

Israel's air and ground offensive has since devastated much of Gaza, killing 28,775 people, also mostly civilians according to Palestinian health authorities, and forcing nearly all of its more than 2 million inhabitants from their homes.

Regarding the possible "unilateral recognition" of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu said there could not be a "bigger prize for terrorism".

"Israel under my leadership will continue to strongly oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state," he said. "An arrangement can be reached only through direct negotiations between the sides, without preconditions."

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh has blamed Israel for a lack of progress in achieving a ceasefire deal in Gaza, the group said in a statement on Saturday.

Haniyeh said Hamas would not accept anything less than a complete cessation of hostilities, Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, and "lifting of the unjust siege," as well as a release of Palestinian prisoners serving long sentences in Israeli jails.