The Hamas leader who masterminded the October 7 attacks is personally handling negotiations for a hostage release even as Israeli troops seek to find and kill him.
Yahya Sinwar, who spent 22 years in an Israeli prison, has taken control of the deal and has been in and out of touch with Qatari mediators, according to reports.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described Sinwar as a “dead man”. The terrorist leader has stayed inside Gaza, unlike Hamas’s political wing, which lives in luxurious exile in Qatar and Turkey.
Israeli defence officials told Haaretz newspaper they were concerned Sinwar was still “euphoric” after the events on October 7 and was sticking to hard-line negotiating positions.
They said a deal should be concluded urgently in case Sinwar cuts off communication in the event of an escalation in the war. Israeli officials are reportedly finalising plans for “targeted” raids into southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled.
US President Joe Biden said a deal to free about 50 of the 240 hostages captured by Hamas was “near”.
Axios, an American news website, reported that Sinwar had stopped engaging with the negotiations after Israeli Defence Forces raided Al-Shifa hospital last week.
He has since been back in touch with Qatari mediators and his position is “narrowing” in on a deal, two sources told the news website. They said he had agreed to free more than the 50 hostages originally planned.
Under the prospective terms of an agreement, Israel would agree to a ceasefire of up to five days for the release of the captives, while Hamas would work to locate those held by other Palestinian groups.