Hamas is discussing proposal for six-week ceasefire, official says

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Hamas’s political chief said Tuesday that the group was considering a proposal to pause fighting in Gaza and exchange hostages for Palestinian prisoners, a potentially promising sign for a deal that was immediately followed by a reminder of the obstacles ahead.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh suggested his openness to a deal in a statement but stuck to long-standing demands for the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, which Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu immediately rejected.

Representatives from four countries – the United States, Qatar, Egypt and Israel – agreed over the weekend in talks in Paris to present the group with a framework that would begin with a six-week ceasefire to allow the release of more hostages.

Haniyeh said Hamas was studying the proposal, thanking Qatar and Egypt for their efforts, and suggested in his statement that Hamas was willing to work with the framework if it helps achieve its demands. In addition to a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces, he said Hamas sought the reconstruction of Gaza, the lifting of a years-long Israeli blockade on the territory and the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

Palestinian children near makeshift shelters in Rafah, southern Gaza, on Tuesday.Credit…Mahmud Hams/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Netanyahu appeared to immediately respond to Haniyeh’s remarks, saying that Israel would not withdraw its army from Gaza or release thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

“We will make no concessions on anything short of total victory,” he said in a speech in the West Bank, according to an Israeli statement.

It was unclear whether the two men’s comments were attempts to define negotiating positions or to appeal to their constituents at home. But the Hamas leader’s agreement to even consider a proposal raised in part by Israel raised hopes that there was a possibility of a deal, even if there are still major differences between the sides.

After talks in Paris on Sunday, representatives of the four nations agreed that Qatar present a framework to Hamas that proposes a pause in the war, during which Hamas would exchange some hostages held in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, officials said.

Under the proposed framework, Hamas would release elderly hostages, women and children, if any are still detained and alive, according to officials, who said it would be the first of three possible phases of exchanges.

Haniyeh added in his statement that Hamas had received an invitation to Cairo to discuss “the framework agreement of the Paris meeting.”

The officials, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity to describe delicate diplomacy, cautioned that talks were at an early stage and that many details would need to be worked out if Hamas agreed to begin building on the framework. The group’s political leaders, including Haniyeh, would have to convey the proposal to their military leaders, a process that could take days or longer because the military leaders are believed to be hiding in tunnels deep in Gaza.

Families of Israeli hostages held in Gaza demanded an immediate deal as they blocked a road near Israel’s Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Monday.Credit…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The meeting in Paris, in which the director of the CIA, William J. Burns, participated; Israeli security officials; and Qatar Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani, came as Israel’s government has faced increasing pressure over its handling of the war, which began on October 7. That day, Hamas led widespread attacks on Israel that Israeli officials said killed about 1,200 people and took about 240 more hostage, making it the worst terrorist attack in the country’s history.

More than 100 hostages were freed during a week-long lull in fighting in November, along with 240 Palestinian prisoners and detainees held by Israel. But efforts to reach another agreement have so far been elusive.

Relatives of those still detained in Gaza have called for an urgent settlement and the International Court of Justice in The Hague last week ordered the delivery of more humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, where health officials say more than 26,000 people have dead since the entry of Israel. The military campaign began.

Sheikh Mohammed, Qatar’s prime minister, said on Monday that “good progress” had been made in the negotiations. At an event hosted by the Washington-based Atlantic Council, he said talks were the only viable path toward reducing tensions, adding that the rising death toll from Israel’s Gaza campaign “was not getting any result to recover the hostages.” “

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