Hamas has made a demand for Israel to stop flying surveillance drones over Gaza as a condition for pausing its military operations during ongoing hostage negotiations. Israeli officials and a third source familiar with the talks have confirmed this request.
While Israel could potentially agree to a pause in its military operations to secure the release of numerous hostages, they are unlikely to accept the request regarding drones. Israel relies on the drones to track the movements of Hamas operatives and ensure the safety of their troops.
The demand regarding drone overflights has not been previously disclosed, and it remains uncertain if it is still under consideration or if Israel has already rejected it. The Israeli embassy in Washington declined to provide a comment on the matter.
Throughout the negotiations, Israel has had to carefully balance its desire to free the hostages with concerns that Hamas may use any pause in operations to their advantage. A pause that includes keeping drones out of Gaza’s airspace would deprive the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) of crucial surveillance capabilities and potentially allow Hamas to reposition fighters or relocate hostages undetected.
The US has also been flying surveillance drones over Gaza in support of Israel’s efforts to locate the hostages, but the intelligence gathered is not being used for lethal purposes. The negotiations involve Israel, Hamas, and the US, with Qatar serving as a mediator.
The parties are working to reach an agreement on several key points, including the duration of a potential ceasefire and the number of hostages to be released. President Joe Biden recently spoke with Qatar’s leader, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in a second call this week. Qatar has played a significant role in hosting the talks, which have included the heads of Israeli and US intelligence.
The initial releases are expected to involve women and children hostages, but Hamas has requested the release of women and children from Israeli prisons in return. Other demands made by Hamas include increased aid and fuel for Gaza and the permission for Palestinians who have sought refuge in the south to return to the northern parts of Gaza, which are currently under Israeli control.
Although progress has been made, the negotiations are not yet complete, and a breakthrough is far from guaranteed. Israel’s National Security Council chairman, Tzachi Hanegbi, stated that Israel has been facing substantial international pressure to declare a ceasefire and humanitarian pauses in Gaza, regardless of the hostage situation.
Hanegbi emphasized that Israel would only agree to a ceasefire once the hostages are safely released, and it would be a brief ceasefire at that. Senior officials within the Biden administration, including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, NSC Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk, and CIA Director Bill Burns, have been heavily involved in the efforts to secure the release of the hostages.
McGurk is currently in the Middle East as part of a multi-country trip aimed at making progress on this issue. The process of freeing the hostages has been described as emotionally challenging and intensifying as a potential deal draws nearer. President Biden himself expressed his commitment to resolving the hostage situation, working diligently every day to facilitate a pause in military operations and the subsequent release of the hostages.