Israel's killing of Hamas leader's sons stokes concerns over hostage talks

Israel's killing of Hamas leader's sons stokes concerns over hostage talks


Israel's killing of Hamas leader's sons stokes concerns over hostage talks

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli forces killed three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh this week without consulting top commanders or political leaders, Israeli media reported on Thursday, an action that risks complicating efforts to free hostages still in Gaza.

Israel's government has faced rising pressure from families of the 133 Israeli hostages still believed to be held in the besieged enclave to secure their release, although talks mediated by the US, Egypt and Qatar have yet to secure a deal.

"I can only hope this won't affect the negotiation. I hope it won't make Hamas put harder conditions on the deal," said Ofri Bibas Levy, whose brother Yarden Bibas was taken captive with his wife and two small children during the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Netanyahu's government has also faced mounting criticism from Israel's main ally, the United States, over the conduct of its military campaign and the chain of command in pursuing its objectives. This has been prompted by the rising number of Palestinian civilians killed and stoked most recently by a strike that killed foreign and Palestinian aid workers in Gaza.

Israel's Walla news agency reported that neither Netanyahu nor Defence Minister Yoav Gallant had been told in advance of Wednesday's strike on Haniyeh's sons, which was coordinated by the Israeli military and the Shin Bet intelligence service.

Quoting senior Israeli officials, it reported that Amir, Mohammad and Hazem Haniyeh had been targeted as fighters and not because they were the sons of Hamas's political leader.

The Israeli military did not comment on reports that four of Haniyeh's grandchildren had also been killed.

The military declined to comment on Walla and other reports. No comment was available from the prime minister's office.

The conservative Israel Hayom daily quoted unnamed military officials saying the strike was carried out in accordance with procedure but said there was a question about whether hitting such a sensitive target should have been carried out without first consulting superiors.

The left-wing Haaretz newspaper, a relentless critic of Netanyahu and his government, called the killings and last week's assassination of senior Iranian officials in the Iranian embassy in Damascus "proactive acts of aggression, designed to thwart any chance of a hostage deal".

The incident came days after two officers were dismissed for misjudgement and breaches of operating procedures in a strike on an aid convoy in Gaza that killed seven aid workers.

Haniyeh, who is based in the Qatari capital Doha where he was due to receive condolences on Thursday evening, said on Wednesday that Hamas had "clear and specific" demands for agreeing to any pause in the fighting.

"The enemy will be delusional if it thinks that targeting my sons, at the climax of the negotiations and before the movement sends its response, will push Hamas to change its position," Haniyeh said.

Global calls for a ceasefire have been growing as the war has entered its seventh month but there has been little sign of progress in the talks.

Hamas is demanding an end to the Israeli offensive, a withdrawal of Israeli forces and permission for Gaza's displaced Palestinians to return to their homes.

Israel wants to secure the return of the hostages but says it will not end the war until Hamas is destroyed as a military force, and that it is still planning to assault the southern city of Rafah, where more than a million civilians have taken refuge.