Israel, Hamas Talks in Limbo After Rafah Move, Says Qatar PM

(Bloomberg) -- Cease-fire talks between Israel and Hamas have reached an impasse following the Jewish state’s ground offensive on the outskirts of the Gazan city of Rafah, according to Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

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Over the past few weeks, “we have seen some momentum building but unfortunately things didn’t move in the right direction,” Sheikh Mohammed said at the Qatar Economic Forum on Tuesday. “Right now, we are in a status of almost a stalemate.”

Negotiations to secure at least a pause in hostilities in the seven-month war have been deadlocked for months, with the two sides far apart on elements such as the status of Israeli troops in Gaza and the terms of a release of hostages held by Hamas and the freeing of Palestinian prisoners. International mediators include Qatar, Egypt and the US.

Israel has at the same time begun what it calls a limited expansion of the military campaign into Rafah, where more than 1.4 million Palestinians had sought refuge from the conflict and some are now fleeing. Troops have begun to enter parts of the city, while fighting has resumed in northern areas of the enclave as Hamas starts to regroup.

Read More: Why Israel’s Plans to Invade Rafah Are So Worrying: QuickTake

The prime minister defended Qatar’s decision to host Hamas’s political bureau in the country, saying the Iran-backed group’s presence has in the past helped mediate other hostage negotiations and keeps lines of communication open for future talks. Qatar has previously said it hosts Hamas in Doha at the request of the US.

Helping to resolve conflict is at the heart of Qatar’s foreign policy, said Sheikh Mohammed, who is also Qatar’s minister of foreign affairs. Still, “our job is limited in mediation role,” he said.

Israel has been critical of what it says is Qatar’s reluctance to pressure Hamas to make concessions in the cease-fire talks, which aim to bring an end to a war that began when Hamas militants went on a deadly rampage in southern Israel on Oct. 7. About 35,000 Palestinians have died in the subsequent conflict, according to health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza.

Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by the US and European Union.

About 450,000 people have left Rafah, located near the Egyptian border, in recent days, according to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, warning those fleeing “face constant exhaustion, hunger and fear.”

Israel has warned civilians to flee before an expected full-scale assault. The military says it needs to attack Rafah to target thousands of remaining Hamas fighters and some leaders it believes are based in the city.

Read: Gazans Flee Danger of Rafah for Uncertainty of Crowded Camps

Israel’s invasion of Rafah has “set us back a little bit,” the prime minister said. “There is a fundamental difference between the two parties. There is a party who wants to end the war and then talk about the hostages and then there is a party who wants the hostages and wants to continue the war.”

He appeared to be referring to the Hamas demand for the cease-fire to be permanent, which Israel won’t accept.

The government of the State of Qatar is the underwriter of the Qatar Economic Forum, Powered by Bloomberg.

--With assistance from Dana Khraiche and Omar Tamo.

(Updates with more context throughout.)

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