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Israel recalls negotiators after reaching ‘dead end’ in Qatar talks

By Tamar Michaelis, MJ Lee and Joshua Berlinger, CNN

Tel Aviv, Israel (CNN) — Israeli authorities recalled their team of negotiators from Qatar after reaching a “dead end” in talks to release hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, according to a statement released by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

The talks in the Gulf nation had led to a tenuous truce between Hamas and Israel that lasted seven days before collapsing on Friday morning.

In the statement, Israel blamed Hamas for failing to “fulfill its part of the agreement, which included the return of all women and children held hostage.”

The negotiators were from Israel’s Mossad intelligence service and the statement said it was the head of the agency, David Barnea, who recalled the team.

A source familiar with the talks told CNN that they broke down on Saturday after Israel continued to insist on the release of a group of women and Hamas refused.

As the diplomatic process stood at an impasse, Hamas pushed to begin discussing the release of men – possibly on a different set of terms, according to the source. Israel rejected that idea, insisting that it was imperative that all women be released first.

Hamas in a statement held Israel and the United States responsible for ending the dialogue. The militant group said Israel refused its offers to exchange prisoners and hand over the bodies of hostages it said had died during the bombardment of Gaza.

Saleh Al-Arouri, deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, confirmed to Al Jazeera TV on Saturday that negotiations had ended, adding there would be no more hostages released until there is a ceasefire.

The remaining hostages still being held by Hamas are current or former soldiers, Al-Arouri said, adding that adult males will be subject to different standards by Hamas.

“We said from day one that the price for releasing Zionist prisoners is the liberation of all our prisoners, after the ceasefire,” Al-Arouri said.

Israeli and US officials believe that Hamas continues to hold hostage a number of women in their twenties and thirties, many of them kidnapped from the Nova music festival. Hamas has insisted that some of the remaining women they were holding hostage were considered a part of the IDF, which Israel denies.

The Israel Defense Forces said Friday that there are 136 hostages still being held in Gaza, including 17 women and children. It is unclear how many of those are being held by Hamas as opposed to other militant groups that operate in the territory.

Qatari and American mediators are still working to find a way to bring back a temporary stop in the fighting, Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters on Saturday after speaking with the Emir of Qatar on the sidelines of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai.

“Our work is ongoing to support some ability to reopen the pause and to have a deal going forward where there will be a pause so that we can get hostages out and get aid in,” Harris said at a news conference.

Harris also said that while the US supports Israel’s “legitimate military objectives” in Gaza, the civilian suffering inside the enclave has been too high.

“As Israel defends itself, it matters how,” she said. “Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering, and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating.”

Israeli offensive resumes

The Israel Defense Forces said it carried out more than 400 strikes in the first 24 hours of renewed fighting that began Friday morning, targeting both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another militant group in Gaza.

The Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza said Saturday that most of the victims were women and children, and dozens are feared dead after the apparent bombardment of a multi-story concrete building in the Jabalya refugee camp.

Among the victims was Dr. Sufyan Tayeh, a prominent Palestinian scientist and the president of the Islamic University of Gaza, according to a statement by the Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. He was killed alongside his family, the statement said.

Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said in a statement late Saturday that it had launched a barrage of rockets from northern Gaza toward Tel Aviv.

The group claimed the attack was in response to what it called “Zionist massacres against civilians.”

Despite the resumption of hostilities, the two sides on Friday continued to negotiate in Qatar through mediators to pause the fighting in exchange for the release of more hostages, sources said.

However, negotiators began expressing concern before Friday’s collapse that Hamas may no longer be holding enough women and children to get Israel to continue pauses in fighting.

Israel had agreed to extend the truce daily for every 10 hostages Hamas released. It released three Palestinian prisoners in exchange for every hostage.

CNN’s Simon Cullen, Sam Fossum, Ibrahim Dahman and Catherine Nicholls contributed to this report

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