Western hopes rise on Hamas accepting temporary ceasefire

Qatari connections have suggested the group has shifted on its position and near-famine is leading to loss of control over Palestinian population

Western officials have told The National that hopes are rising that Hamas might accept a temporary ceasefire and return Israeli hostages. Reuters
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Confidence is growing that Hamas is close to accepting a temporary ceasefire in Gaza and a release of Israeli hostages, western security officials have told The National, as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hoped Egypt and Qatar could get an agreement over the line.

It is also understood that Hamas is now seeking aid flows into the territory to ensure it is not losing control and influence over the Palestinian population.

“We are aware from Qatari sources that the picture is changing and in the last few days that Hamas have become more willing to compromise and agree to a temporary ceasefire,” an official said.

“There is also greater willingness to release hostages, the leadership has shifted on that too.”

The assessment was hinted at by Mr Sunak on Tuesday when he called on Hamas to “work with countries like Egypt and Qatar to unconditionally release the hostages”.

He spoke minutes after deputy foreign secretary Andrew Mitchell told MPs that “there is an urgent demand for the unconditional release of hostages and Hamas must act on this now”.

Any hostage deal will almost certainly involve the release by Israel of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners it currently holds.

Hopes for an end to the fighting that has claimed more than 32,400 Palestinian lives according to the Gaza Health Ministry, have come after the US abstained from a UN Security Council resolution calling for an “immediate ceasefire”.

A significant drive is now being made to step up aid to the near-starving Palestinians with Mr Mitchell telling parliament that it is coming “via land, sea and air” following a successful RAF parachute drop of 10 tonnes of aid.

“We want to create irreversible momentum towards lasting peace,” Mr Mitchell said. “We want to lift people’s eyes up to a political track once this catastrophe is over.”

But he added that Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel meant that it could not remain in power in Gaza, with greater support needed to be given to the Palestinian Authority instead.

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Mr Sunak, who was being questioned by the liaison committee of senior MPs, said that “an immediate and sustained humanitarian pause” was needed that would allow for the safe release of hostages and more aid into Gaza providing “the platform for a more long-term ceasefire”.

The desperate requirement for food aid is said to have been a significant factor in getting Hamas to concede on its demand for a permanent rather than temporary ceasefire.

“There is a suggestion that Hamas are anxious to get aid into Gaza because they are losing control over the population,” the official told The National.

That desperation was highlighted after 12 people drowned trying to retrieve aid dropped over the sea and six others were killed in “stampedes” waiting for relief supplies dropped over the enclave, Gaza’s media office said on Tuesday.

The UN resolution, which passed with 14 votes in favour and one abstention from the US, is the first UN resolution on a ceasefire since the war began on October 7, in which about 1,200 Israelis were killed.

Rather than abstaining, as it has done on other ceasefire resolutions, Britain chose to support the most recent UN statement.

“We will continue to do everything we can to ask Israel at all levels to comply with international humanitarian law and approve the provision of humanitarian aid into Gaza,” said Mr Mitchell.

Updated: March 27, 2024, 4:33 AM