Hamas says it is showing 'flexibility' to reach pause in Gaza war

Leader Ismail Haniyeh also calls on Arab countries for funding and supply of weapons

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh spoke in a pre-recorded message and appealed for money and weapons 'before it is too late'. Reuters
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Hamas's political leader Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday confirmed the Palestinian militants are showing “flexibility” in attempts to reach a deal with Israel, in the latest signal that the group is pushing for a pause in the Gaza war.

Mr Haniyeh's comments come after diplomatic sources told The National last week that the Palestinian group had dropped its demand for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, instead accepting a temporary pause in fighting to allow for a detainee and hostage swap with Israel and the entry of aid into the enclave.

The shift appears to be the outcome of a push by the mediators to arrange a deal at a time when Israel is threatening to take its ground offensive into Gaza's southernmost city Rafah, where more than one million Palestinians have sought refuge.

“The flexibility we show in negotiations out of concern for the blood of our people and to put an end to their great pain and enormous sacrifices in the brutal war of genocide against them, is paralleled by a willingness to defend our people,” said Mr Haniyeh in a speech.

“We assure the Zionists and the United States, their partner in the aggression, that what they were unable to impose on the field will not be achieved through political machinations, whatever forms of deception and pressure they employ.”

His comments come as Palestinian factions including Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad were also set to visit Moscow next week to discuss the potential formation of a technocratic administration to govern Gaza and the occupied West Bank in a postwar scenario.

Discussions of potential arrangements in Gaza after a permanent ceasefire have gained momentum alongside signs that a temporary truce may be near, with Washington appearing determined to secure a pause in the fighting before Ramadan.

Mediators from the US, Egypt and Qatar are engaged in the biggest diplomatic push in weeks for a cessation of hostilities and a swap of detainees and hostages. They are meeting this week in Doha to work out the details and mechanisms to enact draft proposals they hammered out in Paris last week.

The talks are expected to move to Cairo later this week or early next week, according to diplomatic sources.

“God willing, we will have a ceasefire in Gaza in the next few days so we can start real humanitarian assistance for our brothers in the sector,” Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said on Wednesday.

The Gaza war was triggered by Hamas's surprise attack on Israel on October 7 in which 1,200 people were killed and 240 taken hostage by the militant group. Israel’s response was a devastating military campaign in Gaza that has killed about 30,000 people, displaced at least 85 per cent of the enclave’s population and razed much of its built-up areas.

The proposals drafted by the US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators in Paris envision a six-week pause in the war and a hostage and detainee swap between Hamas and Israel, sources said.

If adopted, the exchange would begin with the release of 40 to 50 children, women, ailing and elderly hostages by Hamas in return for about 300 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, they added.

Hamas, said the sources, would hold on to active military service members, with their phased release hinging on progress in reaching a permanent ceasefire.

“Hamas worries that by accepting a temporary pause in exchange for releasing a group of hostages, Israel would simply resume fighting once the pause ends, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has explicitly promised it would,” said Hassan Al Hassan, research fellow for Middle East Policy at IISS.

The Palestinian group freed about 100 hostages during a week-long truce in late November. About 130 are believed to remain, of whom as many as 30 may have died in captivity.

In return for the active members of the Israeli military, who are thought to include five female soldiers and several male officers, Hamas wants as many as 3,000 Palestinian detainees released, including 500 serving long prison sentences.

Hamas had earlier wanted 5,000 released. It also indicated it would be flexible on the release of high-profile Palestinians from Israeli jails.

On Wednesday, sources said that Hamas was still advocating for three Palestinian leaders to be among those released, including Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah official who is seen as a potential future leader of a unified Palestinian Authority. The sources also named Ahmad Saadat, the secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine militant group, and Ibrahim Hamed, a Hamas military commander.

On the Israeli side, Mr Netanyahu is under international and domestic pressure to agree to a hostage swap and truce, despite vowing to continue the fight against Hamas until achieving “total victory”.

Netanyahu rejects Hamas ceasefire deal claiming the only solution is 'total victory'

Netanyahu rejects Hamas ceasefire deal claiming the only solution is 'total victory'

Washington has been pushing Mr Netanyahu to agree to a temporary ceasefire as it seeks to de-escalate tensions across the region.

“The US has all the power and all the leverage, it just needs to decide to use it,” said Mairav Zonszein, senior analyst on Israel at the International Crisis Group.

“The Biden administration sees a temporary ceasefire as part of a greater scheme that would start with a release of hostages, which they've made a priority from the get-go, and then it also serves the interests of reaching a ceasefire in other fronts across the region.”

Domestically, the return of hostages could give the Israeli war cabinet a public relations victory and defuse anti-government protests, as politicians struggle to show any strategic breakthrough in the war.

But despite the optimism regarding a truce, Mr Netanyahu has said any pause to the fighting would be temporary and suggested the war could last for many more months.

Mr Haniyeh also said Hamas was prepared to keep fighting and called on Arab states to arm and fund his group.

“To the Arab world – both the leadership and its peoples – the resistance today in Gaza and the West Bank is defending the Arab nation and Palestine,” he said. “There's a duty to support the resistance in money and weapons.”

Updated: February 28, 2024, 6:03 PM