Intensive mediation efforts are focused on a month-long ceasefire in Gaza
Israel and Hamas have agreed in principle to the possibility of exchanging Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners during the month-long ceasefire, three sources said.
Sources told Reuters that the framework plan was delayed because of disagreements between the two sides over how to reach a permanent end to the war in Gaza.
Intensive mediation efforts led by Qatar, Washington and Egypt in recent weeks have focused on a gradual approach to freeing a variety of Israeli prisoners, from civilians to soldiers, in exchange for a ceasefire and the release of Palestinians. prisoners, and more aid inside Gaza.
One of the sources – an official familiar with the negotiations – said the latest round of diplomatic efforts shortened the duration of the initial ceasefire by about 30 days, which began on December 28, after Hamas had initially proposed months of fighting.
However, according to six sources, Hamas has refused to move forward with plans until future terms for a permanent ceasefire are agreed upon. Most of the sources requested anonymity in order to speak freely about sensitive matters.
One of the sources — a Palestinian official familiar with the mediation efforts — said Israel was seeking to negotiate one phase at a time, with Hamas seeking to reach a “comprehensive agreement” in which a permanent ceasefire was agreed before the hostages. Released at an early stage. Israel and Hamas talk through intermediaries rather than directly.
The US ambassador to the Middle East, Brett McCurg, is in the region for the second time in a week to discuss the release of hostages, and a White House spokesman said yesterday (Tuesday) that Washington would provide long-term support. – term “humanitarian ceasefire.”
Two Egyptian security sources said work was underway to convince Hamas to accept a month-long cease-fire, followed by a permanent cease-fire. But the sources said Hamas is seeking guarantees to implement the second phase of the deal in exchange for agreeing to an initial ceasefire.
Asked about the talks, senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters on Monday that the movement was open to discussing the ideas. But no agreement has been reached yet.
Abu Zuhri said: “We are open to all initiatives and proposals. But any deal must be based on an end to the occupation and a complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
As a seventh source, a senior Hamas official said that one of Israel's proposals was to end the war if Hamas removed six senior leaders from Gaza. But he added that Hamas “absolutely” rejects the plan.
The source said the list included Yahya al-Sinwar and Muhammad al-Deef, who masterminded the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. Killing or arresting them is one of Israel's most important goals in the war, and there is a belief that they are hiding deep within Hamas's vast tunnel network under Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office declined a request for comment on the proposal or broader negotiations. Netanyahu said a “surrender and deportation” scenario was discussed in early January, according to recordings leaked to the Israeli N12 news network.
Netanyahu is under pressure
After nearly 4 months of war, the Israeli assault on Gaza has failed to eliminate Hamas's senior leadership or its ability to fight, despite destroying much of the coastal strip and killing more than 25,000 Palestinians. .
Netanyahu insisted this week that only a “total victory” over “Hamas” would bring an end to the war. But pressure is mounting on him to reach a deal, including pressure from members of the warlord government he leads and the capture of some 130 hostages taken after the Hamas operation.
On Monday, the Israeli military suffered its highest daily death toll in attacks on Gaza, with 24 killed, including 21 in rocket attacks in central Gaza and three elsewhere.
Five sources say Israel refuses to discuss an end to the war that does not include the dissolution of the Hamas movement. They did not specify whether deporting the leaders would fulfill this condition.
Israeli government spokesman Elon Levy said at a press conference yesterday (Tuesday) that efforts to free the hostages are continuing. He said Israel would not agree to a cease-fire agreement that would continue to host Hamas.
Qatar and Washington played an active role in a week of cease-fire talks in November that led to the release of more than 100 hostages and about 240 Palestinian prisoners.
As of December 28, Qatari negotiators sent a new deal framework to Hamas and Israel, according to an official familiar with the negotiations.
When the two sides responded earlier this month, Hamas sought a conflict that could last months, while Israel wanted to release all hostages within weeks, the official said.
Over the past few weeks, U.S. and Qatari mediators have managed to bring the two sides closer to a 30-day process that would include the release of all hostages, additional aid inside Gaza, and a release. Palestinian prisoners.
Despite the difficulty in bridging the gap in positions, one source – familiar with the discussions – described the talks as intense and said an agreement could be reached “at any time”.
American diplomatic efforts
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken embarked on a busy tour between Arab countries and Israel. However, a well-informed US source and a Palestinian official said Hamas was seeking assurances that Israel would not resume the conflict.
A Palestinian official said Hamas wants the United States, Egypt and Qatar to ensure implementation, and that even if Israeli soldiers are detained, the Netanyahu government will resume fighting once Hamas releases civilian hostages.
A US source said Hamas sought the release of all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including those who participated in the October 7 attacks. Hamas has softened the demand, an official familiar with the negotiations said, which Israel is likely to strongly oppose.
A Palestinian official said Hamas hopes Israel will halt its operations in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis before serious talks about a long-term ceasefire.