Hamas Softens Demand for Permanent Cease-Fire in Truce Talks, Officials Say

Hamas Softens Demand for Permanent Cease-Fire in Truce Talks, Officials Say

Hamas is no longer demanding that Israel immediately agree to a permanent ceasefire in return for beginning a hostage and prisoner exchange, people familiar with the negotiations say.

Hamas’s new proposal would allow for the release of hostages in exchange for a gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops from parts of the Gaza Strip, as well as the release of prisoners. By changing demands for a complete end to hostilities, the new proposal could potentially restart negotiations.

The White House welcomed Hamas’s new proposal and confirmed that talks would resume soon in Doha, Qatar, although without the presence of an American delegation. “We are cautiously optimistic that things are moving in a good direction, but that doesn’t mean everything is done and we have to stick with it until the end,” said John F. Kirby, a national security communications adviser for the White House .

The United States is pressuring Hamas to resume talks and relax its demands. Various negotiating parties have made further promises of humanitarian aid to Gaza and vaguely threatened to close Hamas’s political office in Doha.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly rejected the new proposal, other Israeli officials reacted more positively, as Hamas refused to offer terms for a hostage swap last week.

Negotiators, including senior Israeli intelligence officials, could arrive in Doha as early as Sunday, according to a regional official.

While Mr. Kirby said he did not want to negotiate from the White House podium, he suggested that the Hamas proposal fits within the framework agreed to by Israel, Qatar, Egypt and the United States in talks in Paris last month .

“I would say that the proposal that has been put forward is certainly within the framework – broadly speaking – of the agreement that we have been working on for several months,” he said. “But the devil is in the details.”

Another U.S. official and the official in the region said that while gaps between the warring factions need to be closed, the new proposal is the first positive step in some time and it is significant that Hamas is no longer calling for a permanent ceasefire.

In the first phase of an agreement, under Hamas’s proposal, Israeli troops would withdraw toward the central Gaza Strip and allow some civilians to return to their homes, according to an Israeli official briefed on the proposal.

Under the Hamas proposal, Israel would have to agree to release more Palestinians from prison than the U.S.-backed proposal envisaged.

The first hostage exchange would include the remaining five female hostages as well as 35 old, sick or injured men. For the men, Hamas is demanding the release of 350 Palestinian prisoners. There are 50 prisoners planned for each of the women, including 30 serving life sentences. The previous US-backed proposal called for 15 prisoners convicted of serious terrorist attacks to be released in place of the female prisoners.

The first phase would last a few weeks. In the second phase, male prisoners would be released in return for a further cessation of hostilities. In the final phase, Hamas would return the bodies of the deceased hostages and Israel would ease the blockade on Gaza, according to the Hamas proposal.

Israel has resisted any agreement to end its military operations. American officials are pushing to begin an exchange in return for a temporary halt to fighting, saying it is the only formula that can work.

Details of the Hamas proposal were previously reported by Al Jazeera.

The various parties have been discussing for weeks a broader three-stage approach to releasing all hostages held by Hamas and its allies, including the bodies of deceased hostages. Israel and the United States wanted to focus negotiations on the first phase, which involved the release of certain hostages for a number of Palestinian prisoners. But as part of those targeted talks, Hamas had insisted that Israel commit to a permanent ceasefire after all three phases, which has become a key point of contention since Israel refuses to join it.

Edward Wong contributed reporting from Washington.

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2024-03-16 15:25:14