JERUSALEM — Israel has received no substantial offer from Hamas on a deal to free the hostages being held in the Gaza Strip, its president has told NBC News, rejecting reports that a deal may be close at hand.
In an interview in his office in Jerusalem on Thursday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said there was no deal on the table to secure the freedom of the 240 or so hostages.
“There is no real proposal that is viable from Hamas’ side on this issue. Whilst there are many, many people who are third parties who are sending optimistic messages to the news reels, I’m saying outright: According to my knowledge, up to now, there is no real substantial information that is showing any real offer of any process on the table,” he said.
Herzog is Israel’s head of state but does not make policy, with such decisions taken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. But he is briefed on Israeli intelligence and on political decisions.
Asked if the lack of progress on negotiations meant Israel’s only option to recover the hostages was a military rescue, he said: “I don’t intend to go into this at all.”
NBC News’ Raf Sanchez speaks with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem. Chantal Da Silva / NBC News He said Israel had “thousands” of officials working on the hostage issue. “We are working both on the military fronts and on all other fronts to bring them back home.”
Herzog also denied any rift with the United States over humanitarian pauses in the fighting, which could form part of any agreement — despite growing indications of American alarm with the Israeli approach in Gaza as civilian deaths soar.
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The U.S. is discussing with Israel and Qatar a proposal for a pause of up to three days that would allow for the delivery of more humanitarian aid and the possible release of some hostages, according to two foreign diplomats and a U.S. official.
NBC News previously reported that there was growing concern among top Biden administration officials about how Israel is carrying out the war and uncertainty about whether it can be reined in.
The U.S. has been pushing publicly for temporary pauses to allow more aid to reach Palestinian civilians in Gaza and to create a better environment for hostage negotiations. Israel says it will not agree to any cease-fire without the release of the hostages.
Herzog spoke to Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday and said they discussed the issue. “How do we make sure that humanitarian aid flows in? And one of the ideas is a humanitarian pause, which is a legitimate idea. But we say we cannot move to anything without getting the hostages.”
Thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israel’s airstrikes and ground assault in Gaza, prompting growing international calls for a cease-fire and warnings from human rights officials that some strikes may amount to war crimes.
Herzog said the civilian casualties “tears my heart” but said Israel’s military was facing “impossible dynamics” as it battled Hamas forces hiding in a web of tunnels beneath civilian areas.
“Every target is hand-picked and checked by legal experts and security experts,” he said, without elaborating on the process.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said Wednesday that the number of civilians killed shows that there is something “clearly wrong” with Israel’s military operation.
“It is against the interest of Israel to see every day the terrible image of the dramatic humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people,” he said. “That doesn’t help Israel in relation to the global public opinion.”
Raf Sanchez is a foreign correspondent for NBC News.
Chantal Da Silva