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Sources say that Hamas demanded during the hostage talks that Israel stop flying drones over Gaza

Sources say that Hamas demanded during the hostage talks that Israel stop flying drones over Gaza

(CNN) — Hamas has demanded that Israel stop flying reconnaissance drones over Gaza, as part of its request that the Israeli government stop its military operations in exchange for the release of the hostages it is holding, according to Israeli officials and a third source familiar with the matter. .

Although Israel may halt its military operations for several days to allow the release of dozens of hostages, sources indicated that it is unlikely to accept the request for drones, as this would mean losing track of the movements of Hamas activists, including efforts to transport the hostages to… Gaza. .

Hamas’s request to fly drones has not previously been reported, and as intense talks continue, it is unclear whether the request is still on the table or whether Israel has already formally rejected it.

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington declined to comment on Friday.

The Israeli army flies drones into the skies of Gaza for hours on end almost every day during its military operation, using them as a primary means of monitoring the battlefield.

Throughout the negotiations, Israel worked to balance its urgent desire to release the hostages with fears that Hamas would exploit any temporary pause to nullify Israel’s military advantage and reorganize its ranks.

A cessation of fighting that also forces Israel to keep its drones out of Gaza’s airspace would deprive the IDF of one of its most important means of monitoring Hamas’ movements.

It could allow Hamas to reposition its fighters before the end of the ceasefire with Israeli forces on the ground, and would provide Hamas with a window to reorganize hostage hideouts.

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The Pentagon is also flying surveillance drones over Gaza to support Israel’s efforts to find the hostages, including an estimated 10 Americans.

US officials said the US intelligence collected was not being used to carry out deadly attacks.

The negotiating parties (Israel, Hamas, and the United States, with Qatari mediation) continue to work hard to reach agreement on a series of sticking points. Among them are the number of days the potential cessation of fighting will last and the number of hostages that will be released, according to sources familiar with the talks.

President Joe Biden spoke on Friday with Qatari leader Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, according to a person familiar with the call. Qatar was the mediator in the talks in which the heads of Israeli and American intelligence participated. This was the second call between the two this week.

It is expected that the first hostages to be released will be women and children. Hamas also called for the release of women and children from Israeli prisons at the same time. The sources said that other Hamas demands during the negotiations include the entry of more aid and fuel into Gaza, as well as allowing Palestinians who fled to the south in search of safety to return to the north, where Israel now controls.

“We’re close, but it’s not complete,” the source said. They warned that there was no guarantee of a breakthrough, and that if an agreement was reached, it would still be days away.

The head of the Israeli National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegbi, said on Friday that Israel faces “strong international pressure” to declare a ceasefire and a humanitarian truce in Gaza, regardless of the release of any hostages, describing those demands as impossible.

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“When we know that the hostages can be released, not in a manipulative way or for Hamas’ public relations purposes, but through a mass release of our hostages, only then will we accept a ceasefire. Even then, it will be very short,” Hanegbi said.

Senior Biden administration officials, such as National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East Brett McGurk, and CIA Director Bill Burns, were involved “almost hourly” in the effort to transfer hostages to Gaza, according to the sources. McGurk is currently in the Middle East on a multi-country tour aimed in part at promoting the hostage release.

CNN described the process of efforts to extract the hostages from Gaza as very emotional, intense and difficult, and even more so in recent days, when it seemed that the agreement was approaching.

“Five or six times a day, I work out how to help free the hostages and get a period of time where there is a pause long enough to allow that to happen,” Biden said Wednesday night.

CNN’s Tamar Michaelis contributed to this report.