Israel ‘will never agree to’ Hamas’ cease-fire proposals, source tells NBC News

TEL AVIV — Israel’s government is pessimistic about the possibility of a deal with Hamas after receiving the militant group’s proposals for a cease-fire deal, a source connected to Netanyahu’s office told NBC News today.

The response to an offer sent last week by Qatari and Egyptian mediators suggests a halt in fighting as the hostages are freed and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip before an agreement is reached on ending the war.

It comes in the biggest diplomatic push yet for an extended halt to the fighting, but the source said it was unlikely to be approved by the Israeli government.

“The fact that Hamas is asking for a cease-fire for Israelis to withdraw its forces, that’s something that Israel will never agree to,” the source in Netanyahu’s office said. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Hamas’ demands and Israel’s apparent rejection injects new pessimism into hostage negotiations that had been hammered out by intelligence chiefs and leading politicians from four nations in Paris nearly two weeks ago, including CIA Director William Burns.

Israel’s government will discuss Hamas’ reaction to the proposal today and will hold further discussions in the war Cabinet and security Cabinet tomorrow, the source said. But given Hamas’ demands, even those further conversations might be canceled, the source added.

Israel has made clear that it will not pull its troops out of Gaza until Hamas is wiped out — an objective that renders Hamas’ demand for a full and final cease-fire an impossible starting point.

Blinken in Israel for high-stakes meetings as hostage talks go on

Blinken is in Tel Aviv today where he is expected to kick off hostage talks with key Israeli officials, amid mounting pressure for a cease-fire and a permanent end to the war in Gaza.

Hamas’ proposal — a response to an offer sent last week by Qatari and Egyptian mediators — comes in the biggest diplomatic push yet for an extended halt to the fighting, and was met with hope and relief in the Gaza Strip.

It arrived just before Blinken met with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Blinken said yesterday. “But we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and indeed essential. And we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it.”

Blaze and gunfire captured by NBC News crew in southern Gaza

A home is engulfed by flames, crackling gunshots whip through the air and used bullets lie discarded on a deserted street in footage shot by an NBC News crew in the Gazan city of Khan Younis yesterday.

As residents take cover near the corners of a wide street, a shootout can be heard nearby. As the gunfire subsides, a man picks up a bullet cartridge case from the ground.

Off-camera, someone says an Israeli sniper was shooting from rooftop of a nearby building.

NBC News has reached out to the Israel Defense Forces for comment.

They’ve returned home to the scene of a Hamas massacre. No one has joined them.

KFAR AZA, Israel — It looks like a grisly crime scene. But to Shahar Shnorman and his wife, Ayelet Cohen, kibbutz Kfar Aza looks like home.

The couple were the first to return to Kfar Aza — a sleepy, sun-drenched hamlet in southern Israel where Hamas killed 80 people and kidnapped another 19 on Oct. 7. 

Towns Attacked On Oct. 7 Face Long Road To Revival
Scorched homes in Kfar Aza last month.Noam Galai / Getty Images

“People thought we are crazy to come back,” Cohen, 55, said. “I didn’t want to be a refugee. I wanted to live in my own house and sleep in my own bed. And for me, it was very important.”

Shnorman and Cohen spoke as they walked past their slain neighbors’ homes, many of them burned down, pocked with bullet holes and still wrapped in police tape. 

Read the full story here.

‘Room to work’ with Hamas’ cease-fire counterproposal, senior U.S. official tells NBC News

A senior administration official told NBC News the Hamas response conveyed to Blinken by the Qataris appears to be a unified response from Hamas’ different factions and it is accurate to call it “generally positive.” The official added there were still a number of issues to be worked out once Blinken sees what the Israelis say today. 

The official said one immediate difference is the duration of the pause, with Hamas wanting an indefinite cease-fire; the framework agreed to in Paris was for a six-week pause in the fighting. Another issue still to be worked out is the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released in exchange for Israeli hostages. The last hostage exchange was three Palestinians for every hostage released, but this time Hamas is believed to be demanding many more in the exchange, including those convicted of violent crimes.

The senior official, who has been briefed on the Hamas offer, told NBC News: ”We’ll see what the Israelis have to say. There are still some difficult issues to be worked out but there is some room to work with.” The official added, “We are all skeptical it will come together in the coming days but hopeful it could in the next couple of weeks.”

As he did on his last trip to Israel, Blinken plans to meet today not only with Netanyahu, but also with individual members of the war Cabinet and with opposition leaders to explore ways to wind down the war, get more aid into Gaza and free the hostages. A top priority for Israel and the U.S. is releasing the remaining women hostages who were supposed to get out in November but were not freed as Hamas had promised.

Many of them were victims of sexual assault and other abuses, according to eyewitness testimony and other evidence Israel has been able to collect over the last two months, according to a diplomatic source.

Houthis fired at 2 ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden

Iran-backed Houthi militants fired six anti-ship ballistic missiles from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden yesterday, a U.S. defense official told NBC News.

Three of the missiles were aimed at the MV Star Nasia, a bulk carrier transiting the Gulf of Aden. Star Nasia sustained minor damage but no injuries were reported. It remains seaworthy and is continuing toward its destination. 

The remaining three missiles were most likely targeting MV Morning Tide, a cargo ship operating in the southern Red Sea. The three missiles hit the water near the ship without effect.

Morning Tide is continuing its journey and reported no injuries or damage.

Earlier yesterday, the Houthis released a statement threatening to “escalate more and more” unless the “aggression” on Gaza ended.

Qatar received Hamas counterproposal one hour before Blinken met with emir

DOHA, Qatar — Qatar received a response from Hamas to a potential hostage deal just an hour before Blinken was set to meet with the Qatari emir, a senior State Department official said.

The emir, or head of state, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, informed Blinken about the counterproposal when they first met shortly after he landed in Doha, according to the official, but Al Thani did not provide details.

When Blinken walked into the meeting with Al Thani, the emir passed around the counterproposal to go over the details with the U.S. delegation.

Soon afterward, department officials briefed White House officials on the counterproposal, the official said. The response was then announced to the public at a joint news conference between Blinken and Qatar’s prime minister.

Civilians caught in Rafah bombardments

An injured man with his head bandaged looks over the debris of a destroyed building in Rafah in southern Gaza today.

Israeli bombardment in Rafah
Said Khatib / AFP – Getty Images

A young girl peers out at rubble after buildings were damaged by recent Israeli bombardments.

Rafah Gaza Israeli Bombardments
Said Khatib / AFP via Getty Images

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