Israel and Hamas in 'decisive' talks over Gaza ceasefire

Proposals seem to align more closely with the demands of the Palestinian group, sources say

An injured man sits by the ruins of a house in Rafah, southern Gaza, following an Israeli strike. Reuters
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Israel and Hamas are engaged in “decisive” indirect negotiations in Cairo on proposals to stop the war in Gaza that seem to align more closely with the demands of the Palestinian group, sources told The National on Monday.

The Hamas delegation led by Khalil Al Haya, deputy and confidante of the group’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, and the Israeli delegation headed by senior officials from Israel’s spy agency Mossad and its domestic security counterpart the Shin Bet, are meeting Egyptian and US officials to discuss the proposals.

According to the sources, the talks in Egypt will last two days then move to Qatar. The Doha talks will be followed by consultations among Hamas leaders both in exile and in the Gaza Strip to formulate a response.

The latest proposals envisage a three-week truce during which Hamas would be expected to release about 20 women, elderly people and children in exchange for an as-yet-unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners. This truce would be followed by a 10-week ceasefire, during which Hamas and Israel would enact a larger detainee and hostage swap.

The proposals, according to the sources, now include a “second phase” of a truce, which entails a “period of sustained calm”. This period, which could last as long as a year, is said to be Israel’s compromise response to a Hamas demand for permanent ceasefire.

Israel has previously rejected any ceasefire before the release of all hostages and refused freeing high-profile Palestinian detainees including Marwan Barghouti, a popular member of the mainstream Fatah faction whose name has frequently been floated as a potential future Palestinian president.

“Everything is back on the table now. These are decisive talks,” a Palestinian political source said.

The latest round of negotiations comes amid increased diplomatic pressure by the US and other western powers on Israel to conclude a deal that would stop the war, which has killed more than 34,400 Palestinians in nearly seven months, and caused a wave of pro-Palestinian protests across universities in the US and Europe.

Hours before the delegations arrived in Cairo, US President Joe Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to review the “ongoing talks to secure the release of hostages together with an immediate ceasefire in Gaza”, the White House said in a statement.

Ambiguous language

The Palestinian political source said the initial Israeli response to the proposals received by Cairo included ambiguous phrases such as “ready” or “striving to”, which, according to the source, “confirms the absence of a clear commitment and no decisive guarantees”.

Another source in Cairo also referred to “the ambiguous phrasing” but added that regardless of Hamas's response, the latest proposals provide the basis for another round of negotiations over the details.

Israel’s onslaught was triggered by a Hamas-led attack on communities in southern Israel on October 7, when they killed about 1,200 people and abducted 240. A truce in late November led to the release of 100 hostages. About 30 of those remaining are believed to have died in captivity.

Israel has declared the annihilation of Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, its main war goal, along with freeing the hostages. It wants a commanding security role in postwar Gaza and measures to stop a repeat of the October attack, the deadliest since its foundation in 1948.

Hamas spokesman in Lebanon, Walid Al Kilani, on Monday told The National the group was “sticking to the proposals it presented to the mediators, which include four tracks: a ceasefire, Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, allowing the displaced to return to their areas and the release of prisoners and detainees”.

The group, he added, “wants to follow the four tracks, while Israel wants to work on one track, which is the release of prisoners and hostages only”. The group has also been demanding a timetable for the reconstruction of Gaza.

'Leaving Gaza'

In Riyadh, developments in Gaza have topped the last day of the World Economic Forum meeting on Monday.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron urged Hamas to accept the current hostage deal being presented. Speaking in the closing session, he told participants all pressure should be exerted on the group to accept the agreement.

Lord Cameron said the offer on the table was for a truce of 40 days, without giving details about the phases of the truce.

He also said that “Hamas leadership must leave Gaza … you have to see a political future for the Palestinian people and security for Israel”.

Hamas has a presence in Qatar, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, and other countries in the region. It has rejected the idea of leaving Gaza.

However, Qatar has faced mounting US pressure to push Hamas into accepting ceasefire proposals. Sources told The National that Qatari mediators had made thinly veiled warnings to the Hamas leaders based in Doha that they would be asked to leave if they did not show flexibility during Gaza truce negotiations.

Musa Abu Marzouk, member of the Hamas political bureau, told Iranian Al Alam TV that the talks about the group being forced to leave Doha are “false”. However, he added that if they had to leave, they would aim to relocate to Jordan.

“If the leadership of Hamas relocates, and this is not a topic now, they will move to Jordan,” he said.

The Hamas official also said that a delegation from the group is heading to China in the coming days for direct discussions with Fatah, which controls the Palestinian National Authority in the occupied West Bank, about the future of the Palestinian cause.

Updated: April 30, 2024, 10:32 AM