Hamas says no prisoner exchange before ceasefire as Ramadan is just days away

Mar 5, 2024, 11:49 AM | Updated: 11:50 am

People inspect damage and recover items from their homes following Israeli air strikes on February ...

People inspect damage and recover items from their homes following Israeli air strikes on February 27, 2024 in Rafah, Gaza. As of Tuesday, 29,878 had been killed in Gaza since the start of the war on Oct. 7, according to the territory's health ministry. Also this week, more details have emerged of a potential new ceasefire deal that could start before Ramadan, pending further negotiations by Israel, Hamas and foreign mediators. (Photo by Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)

(CNN) —Hamas said Tuesday there could be no “exchange of prisoners” before a ceasefire in Gaza and accused Israel of stalling talks, in a development that could potentially complicate hopes of securing a deal by the start of Ramadan.

“We have affirmed our conditions for a ceasefire: complete withdrawal from the sector, the return of displaced persons to the areas they left, especially in the north, and the provision of sufficient aid, relief, and reconstruction,” Hamas senior leader Osama Hamdan told a news conference in Beirut.

Hamdan ruled out any prisoner exchange being completed “except after the completion of all this,” and warned that the negotiations would not be “open-ended” as Israel continued its offensive in Gaza.

Hamdan’s remarks were a response to a proposal presented to Hamas by Egypt and Qatar last week as negotiators scramble to reach a deal that would pair a pause in fighting with the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

Hamdan’s response to the proposal came just hours after US President Joe Biden said a potential ceasefire was “in the hands of Hamas” as he boarded Air Force One at Hagerstown airport.

Biden said the “Israelis have been cooperating” and that a ceasefire is necessary.

“We need a ceasefire,” he said, calling the deal on the table a “rational offer” and saying the Israelis had agreed to it.

“We have to see what Hamas does,” he said.

Race against the clock

The Biden administration has been racing against the clock to secure a ceasefire before Ramadan, which begins March 10, fearing any aggressive military push by Israel during the Muslim holy month would only further inflame tensions across the region.

Biden said Tuesday that without a deal by Ramadan, the situation in Israel and specifically Jerusalem would be “very, very dangerous.”

Negotiators had gathered in the Egyptian capital Cairo on Sunday for talks on a deal, but Israel did not send a delegation, an Israeli official told CNN, despite increasing international pressure to end hostilities and allow for a desperately needed surge of humanitarian aid.

An Israeli official told CNN that the reason behind the decision was that Hamas had not responded to two Israeli demands: a list of hostages specifying which are alive and which are dead; and confirmation of the ratio of Palestinian prisoners to be released from Israeli prisons in exchange for hostages.

When Biden was asked about his relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said it was “like it’s always been.” And he repeated his assertion there were “no excuses” for Israel not to allow more aid into Gaza.

The US has become increasingly vocal about the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, where the United Nations warns hundreds of thousands of people are on the brink of famine and US ally Israel continues to obstruct the bulk of aid deliveries.

On Saturday, the US made its first humanitarian airdrop into the strip — 66 bundles containing meals but no water or medical supplies, a US official said. Aid groups have criticized the air drops as an ineffective and degrading way to get aid to Palestinians in Gaza, with the International Crisis Group’s UN director saying they are at best a “temporary Band-Aid measure.”

One of the strongest rebukes of Israel by a US official to date came from US Vice President Kamala Harris, who on Sunday forcefully called for more humanitarian aid into Gaza, saying that people in the region are “starving” in the face of “inhumane” conditions and urged Israel to do more.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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Hamas says no prisoner exchange before ceasefire as Ramadan is just days away