Hamas says no exchange of prisoners before Gaza ceasefire

CAIRO (Reuters) – An exchange of Palestinian prisoners and Israeli hostages in Gaza can only happen after a ceasefire, senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said on Tuesday, as ceasefire talks in Cairo between Hamas, Egypt and Qatar continued with no sign of a breakthrough.

Hamdan, speaking at a press conference in Beirut, repeated his group’s conditions for a deal; an end to Israel’s military offensive, a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip, and the return of displaced Palestinians to homes they have fled in other parts of Gaza.

“In the past two days, the movement presented its position on the proposal put forward by the brotherly Qatari and Egyptian mediators. We reaffirmed our conditions for a ceasefire: a full pullout from the Strip and the return of the displaced from areas they left, in particular in the north,” he said.

The humanitarian situation is particularly dire in northern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of residents are believed to have remained despite Israeli orders to evacuate.

The United Nations has been unable to deliver food aid to the north since Jan. 23. Israeli authorities have denied access to U.N. aid convoys, which their troops have fired on.

The United States on Saturday carried out the first of what it said would be a series of humanitarian air drops of food into Gaza.

But Hamdan told reporters: “We say to Washington, what is more important than sending aid is stopping its supply of weapons to Israel.”

(Reporting by Nidal Al Mughrabi, Writing by Adam Makary, Editing by William Maclean)

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