Israel to allow displaced Gazans to return to the north if a truce is reached

The latest position was presented by negotiators in Cairo

Palestinian women react as they inspect the damage in the area surrounding Gaza's Al Shifa Hospital after the Israeli military withdrew from the complex on April 1, 2024, AFP
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Israel has told Gaza truce mediators it's prepared to allow displaced Gazans to return home in groups of up to 2,000 after security checks, sources told The National on Monday.

The proposal was presented to Hamas through Egyptian mediators during negotiations this week.

More than a million Palestinians have been forced to leave their homes in northern and central Gaza since the war began on October 7. It had been reported that Israel had agreed to the gradual return of displaced Gazans on the condition that no males between the ages of 18 and 50 were allowed to return.

Hamas has previously stated its unwillingness to accept less than a full and unconditional return of the displaced, who make up the majority of Gaza's 2.3 million people. Israel also made no immediate public comment regarding the proposal.

A Hamas delegation led by Khalil Al Hayya was expected in Egypt within days to participate in negotiations. Mr Al Hayya is the deputy of Hamas's leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, Israel's most wanted man.

Most of Gaza's displaced have found refuge in the southern Gaza city of Rafah on the Egyptian border, which Israel has threatened to invade Rafah to eliminate Hamas.

Israel's proposal also includes assigned hours of the day during which the displaced can make the journey back to their homes.

The proposal is contingent on the two sides agreeing to a truce, which mediators from Egypt, the US and Qatar have been attempting to secure for months.

The return of the displaced is one of several crucial issues that the two sides disagree on, including Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and details of a hostage and prisoner swap. Israel has also insisted on retaining an indefinite and unfettered security role in postwar Gaza and a say in the planned reconstruction of the enclave.

The Gaza war was triggered by an unprecedented attack by Hamas on southern Israel on October 7. The attack left about 1,200 dead. A further 240 were taken hostage. About 100 of the hostages were released during a week-long truce in late November.

Israel carried out a relentless bombardment of Gaza in response which has killed more than 32,800 Palestinians and injured more than 75,000.

Hunger is now widespread in Gaza with the UN warning of a famine.

The negotiations to broker a Gaza ceasefire are taking place as the long-running rift between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank appears to be deepening, adding a serious complication to efforts by the mediators and the international community to chart a road map for postwar Gaza.

The two sides have been at sharp odds since 2006 when Hamas swept legislative elections. The following year, Hamas threw the Authority out of Gaza in a brief civil war against Fatah, the dominant faction in the group.

On Sunday night, Hamas accused the Palestinian Authority of sending security officers into northern Gaza.

A senior Hamas official told the group's Al-Aqsa TV that the force's mission was supervised by Majed Faraj, the Palestinian Authority's chief of intelligence, and co-ordinated with Israel.

It said six members of the force, who escorted aid lorries coming through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, were arrested.

The sources who spoke to The National on Monday said at least 13 had been arrested.

Hamas has dismissed as unrealistic any attempt to exclude it from postwar scenarios for Gaza. Repeated attempts over the years to reconcile Fatah and Hamas by Egypt and others have failed.

Updated: April 01, 2024, 6:08 PM