Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a summit in Paris on Sunday to negotiate a return of hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a cease-fire in Gaza was “constructive,” but “significant gaps” remain.
Those differences will be discussed at additional meetings this week, according to a statement from Netanyahu’s office.
Spy chiefs and top officials from Qatar, Egypt, the US and Israel met to try to secure the release of more than 100 hostages taken from Israel on Oct. 7 that are still held in Gaza, and end the war there that has killed more than 26,000 people, according to Hamas officials.
The summit was hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been mediating between the parties since the outbreak of the conflict in May 2023.
Macron said he hoped the summit would pave the way for a “lasting and comprehensive” solution to the crisis, and urged both sides to show “courage and responsibility”.
He also expressed his solidarity with the families of the hostages, and called for their immediate and unconditional release.
The hostages, mostly civilians, were abducted by Hamas militants who infiltrated Israel through a network of tunnels under the border. They have been held in undisclosed locations in Gaza, and their fate is unknown.
Hamas has demanded that Israel lift its blockade on Gaza, which has been in place since 2007, and release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the hostages.
Israel has rejected these demands, and has launched a massive military campaign to destroy Hamas’s infrastructure and capabilities in Gaza. It has also tightened its restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of the enclave.
The war has caused widespread devastation and suffering in Gaza, where more than 2 million people live in dire conditions. According to the UN, more than 90% of the population lacks access to clean water, electricity, and health care.
The international community has been calling for an end to the violence and a humanitarian intervention in Gaza. Several countries have offered to host negotiations and provide humanitarian aid, but the efforts have been hampered by the lack of trust and communication between the parties.
The Paris summit was seen as a rare opportunity to break the deadlock and pave the way for a political dialogue. However, the participants acknowledged that the challenges were immense and the gaps were wide.
Netanyahu said he appreciated Macron’s efforts, and reiterated his commitment to the security and well-being of the hostages and the Israeli people.
He said he was willing to explore “any option” that would lead to the safe return of the hostages, but he also stressed that Israel would not compromise on its right to defend itself against Hamas’s aggression.
He said he hoped that the summit would create “a positive momentum” for further talks, but he also warned that Israel was prepared to resume its military operations if Hamas resumed its rocket attacks.
Hamas, meanwhile, said it welcomed the summit as a “positive step”, but it also accused Israel of being “intransigent and arrogant”.
It said it was ready to engage in “serious and constructive” negotiations, but it also reiterated its demands for the lifting of the blockade and the release of the prisoners.
It said it hoped that the summit would lead to “a just and comprehensive” solution that would address the root causes of the conflict and the rights of the Palestinian people.
It also said it was committed to the cease-fire, but it also reserved the right to respond to any Israeli “aggression or provocation”.
The summit ended with a joint statement that expressed the “determination” of the participants to continue their efforts to achieve a “lasting and comprehensive” solution to the crisis.
It also called for the “immediate and unconditional” release of the hostages, the “full and permanent” cessation of hostilities, the “urgent and substantial” delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, and the “resumption of credible and meaningful” negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The statement said the participants would meet again “as soon as possible” to follow up on the progress and the implementation of the agreed steps.