Negotiators to launch another push for a Gaza truce in Qatar this week

US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators will seek to bridge gaps between Israel and Hamas

German Armed Forces drop relief supplies over the Gaza Strip. EPA
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A new round of Gaza truce negotiations is scheduled to begin in Doha on Monday, days after Hamas presented its latest conditions for a ceasefire that Israel dismissed as “unrealistic”.

The talks will be held against the backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the threat of an Israeli invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza.

The negotiations will be led by CIA director William Burns, his Egyptian counterpart Abbas Kamel and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman, according to sources.

Hamas’s latest proposals include some compromises but also conditions that Israel is unlikely to accept

Israel’s team will be led by Mossad intelligence agency chief David Barnea and his counterpart at the domestic Shin Bet security agency, Ronen Bar. Hamas will be represented by Ismail Haniyeh, the group’s political leader, and Khalil Al Hayah, the deputy and confidante of Hamas’s powerful Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, the sources said.

Hamas’s latest proposals, which will be the focus of the negotiations in Doha, include some compromises but also conditions that Israel is unlikely to accept.

According to the sources, the key elements of Hamas's new truce offer, based on a draft negotiated in Paris last month, are as follows.

Hamas is seeking an initial six-week truce during which Israeli forces move out of Gaza's urban centres.

Israeli forces should also stay away from Gaza’s two main roads – Salaheddin and Al Rasheed – that run the entire length of the coastal strip. Hamas says that this will facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance across the enclave and ensure that hundreds of thousands of residents displaced by the war from central and northern areas can return to their homes in safety.

The mediators must also give Hamas guarantees that a permanent ceasefire will be in place when the six-week truce ends.

The group is offering to release between 40 to 45 of the estimated 100 hostages it still holds over the six weeks, comprising captives who are women, ailing, elderly or children.

In return, Israel must release at least 1,000 Palestinians incarcerated in its prisons.

Humanitarian aid should freely flow into Gaza during the initial truce, including temporary homes and tent camps for those whose homes are destroyed or structurally damaged.

Hospitals damaged during the fighting or closed must be repaired and re-equipped and returned to normal operations.

During the second phase of the deal, lasting another six weeks, Israel should complete a full withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas says.

The return of displaced – more than 80 per cent of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, most of them now living in Rafah in southern Gaza close to the Egyptian border – should be completed over the same period.

Meanwhile, Hamas will release female Israeli soldiers it is holding hostage, believed to number about five. Hamas wants Israel to release 50 Palestinian detainees for each one of them, of whom 30 should be prisoners serving life or lengthy jail terms.

The third phase of the deal is open-ended. It will include a swap of active-duty Israeli soldiers in Hamas’s custody for Palestinian prisoners whose number will be determined later. It also involves Hamas allowing the examination by independent forensic experts of the remains of an estimated 30 hostages who died while in Hamas’s captivity to determine their identity before they are handed to Israel, also in exchange for Palestinian detainees.

Hamas says the implementation of the proposals is conditional on Israel’s fulfilment of its part of the deal.

Hamas is also seeking guarantees and a timeline for the reconstruction of Gaza from the mediators.

The sources said there were no guarantees that the Doha negotiations this week would produce a deal acceptable to both Israel and Hamas. The pair, they contend, are equally keen on declaring victory in the war and not being seen to have given in to the other’s conditions for a ceasefire.

So far, the intransigence of both Israel and Hamas has wasted months of negotiations and contacts by the US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators to end the fighting and ensure the delivery of sufficient assistance to its residents, apart from a week-long truce in late November when Hamas freed 100 of the hostages and a surge in the delivery of humanitarian aid followed.

The latest talks have failed despite significant US pressure to have a truce in place before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on March 11.

The Gaza war was triggered by an attack on southern Israel by Hamas on October 7. Some 1,200 people were killed in the attack and another 240 taken hostage.

Israel’s response to the attack has been a devastating bombardment that has to date killed more than 31,000 Palestinians, displaced hundreds of thousands and razed much of its built-up area.

Additionally, the UN says a quarter of Gaza’s population was one step away from famine and, like the US and others, warns that a ground Israeli operation in Rafah, where 1.5 million people have taken refuge, would seriously worsen the humanitarian situation and significantly increase the number of civilian casualties.

Unperturbed by the growing international pressure, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday it had approved an attack plan on Rafah. The city’s civilian population would be evacuated, it added, but gave no time frame and there was no sign of imminent preparations on the ground.

Updated: March 17, 2024, 9:04 PM