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Hamas asked Israel to stop flying drones over Gaza in hostage negotiations, sources say

Tomer Appelbaum/Reuters

People look at an installation called “Empty Beds” November 9 in Tel Aviv, where the beds represent about 240 hostages captured during the attack by Hamas gunmen.


Hamas has demanded that Israel stop flying surveillance drones over Gaza as part of its demand that Israel suspend military operations in exchange for the release of hostages held by the terrorist group, according to two Israeli officials and a third source close to the ongoing negotiations.

Although Israel could suspend its military operations for several days to allow the release of many hostages, the sources suggested it was unlikely to accept the drone request because it would mean losing track of the movements of Hamas members. , including their efforts. move the hostages within the Gaza Strip.

Hamas’ request for drone overflights has not been previously reported and, with intense discussions continuing, it is unclear whether it remains on the table or has already been formally rejected by Israel and presented as part of the negotiations.

A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy in Washington declined to comment Friday.

The Israeli military has flown drones in the skies over Gaza for hours almost every day during its military operation, using them as its primary means of monitoring the battlefield.

Throughout the negotiations, Israel balanced its urgent desire to free the hostages with fears that Hamas would take advantage of any pause to snuff out Israel’s military advantage and regroup.

A pause in fighting that also requires Israel to keep its drones out of Gaza’s airspace would deprive the IDF of one of its most important means of observing Hamas’ movements from above. This could allow Hamas to reposition its fighters before the ceasefire expires with Israeli troops exposed on the ground, and it would provide Hamas with a window to reshuffle the hostages’ hiding places.

The Pentagon also flew American surveillance drones over Gaza to support Israel’s efforts to find the hostages, including around a dozen Americans. U.S. officials have said the U.S. intelligence collected is not used to carry out deadly strikes.

The negotiating parties – Israel, Hamas and the United States, with Qatar as mediator – continue to struggle, as they try to reach agreement on a number of sticking points. These include how many days a possible pause in fighting would last and how many hostages would be released, according to sources close to the talks.

President Joe Biden spoke with Qatar’s leader, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on Friday, according to a person familiar with the call. Qatar hosted hostage talks attended by Israeli and US intelligence chiefs. This was the second call between the two men this week.

The hostages who should be released first are women and children. Hamas also demanded that women and children held in Israeli prisons be released at the same time. Other demands made by Hamas during the negotiations include more aid and fuel to Gaza, sources said, as well as allowing Palestinians who fled to the south for security reasons to return to the north. of Gaza, where Israel now has control.

“It’s closer, but it’s not over,” the source said. They warned that there was no guarantee of a breakthrough and that an agreement – ​​if it were to materialize – would still be likely within days.

Israeli National Security Council Chairman Tzachi Hanegbi said Friday that Israel faces “strong international pressure” to declare a ceasefire and humanitarian pauses in Gaza regardless of ANY hostage releases, calling these impossible demands.

“When we know that the hostages can be released, not in a manipulative way or for Hamas PR purposes, but rather through a mass release of our hostages, only then will we agree to a ceasefire. And even then it will be very short,” Hanegbi said.

Senior Biden administration officials, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, NSC Middle East Coordinator Brett McGurk and CIA Director Bill Burns, have participated “almost hourly” in efforts to to get the hostages out of Gaza, sources said. McGurk is currently in the Middle East on a multi-country trip aimed in part at making progress in freeing the hostages.

The process of fighting to get the hostages out of Gaza was described to CNN as deeply emotional, intense and difficult – and even more so in recent days as a deal seemed ever closer.

“Five to six times a day, I’m working on how I can help free the hostages and have a long enough break period to allow that to happen,” Biden said Wednesday evening.

CNN’s Tamar Michaelis contributed to this report.

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