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Israel ‘expanded’ operations in Gaza after hostage talks stalled – Axios

The country’s authorities reportedly believed Hamas was dragging its feet to delay an IDF offensive

The Israeli military has moved to expand its ground operations in Gaza after talks to free hostages taken by the Palestinian armed group Hamas hit a dead end, Axios reported on Saturday, citing sources. Hamas is currently holding more than 200 people, including both soldiers and civilians.

According to two Israeli officials interviewed by the outlet, the decision to take hostilities to a new level was made by the war cabinet on Thursday night. With negotiations reportedly failing to secure the release of the hostages, the Israel Defense Forces said that it had moved ahead with both air and ground operations in Gaza.

The Times of Israel reported on Friday, citing a senior official, that the government believes Hamas “has been dragging out hostage negotiations” to postpone the offensive in Gaza. The paper’s source also indicated that there was no breakthrough in sight.

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Contrary to that assessment, CNN reported the same day, citing a source familiar with the negotiation process, that there had been “significant progress.”

“There are issues still remaining, but talks are ongoing, and we remain hopeful,” a source for the American network said.

This came after Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian revealed on Thursday that Hamas, which has close ties with Tehran, “is ready to release civilian prisoners.” Several media reports also claimed that the Biden administration has been urging Israel to delay its ground attack to gain more time to secure the release of hostages.

Israeli officials say Hamas has taken a total of 224 people captive since October 7, when it launched its surprise raid, with some of the prisoners being foreign nationals. The militant group has so far released four of those held, including a mother and daughter from Chicago and two elderly Israeli women.

At the same time, Hamas has claimed that Israeli airstrikes have killed about 50 hostages. According to official figures, in total more than 7,300 Palestinians and 1,400 Israelis have been killed in the fighting so far.

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