Hopes for Gaza ceasefire as Hamas says it will respond to proposals by end of week

Palestinian group and Israel still disagree over length and details of potential truce and hostage exchange deal

A newly released Palestinian who was detained by the Israeli army is hugged by a relative at a hospital in Rafah. Reuters
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Hamas will respond to Israel’s latest proposal for a truce in the war in Gaza and a hostage exchange “before the end of the week” after studying it carefully, a Hamas source close to the negotiations told The National on Thursday. The source added that “some points still need to be resolved”.

Many hope that the elusive deal, which has been months in the making, will avert an Israeli offensive in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza and provide relief and aid to Gaza’s besieged population.

“There’s been an advancement in the Israeli reasoning and their approach to some of the issues – but not all of them,” the Hamas source said, adding that the group’s response could be expected any time “from here until the end of the week”, following careful study.

The source spoke following a Hamas statement earlier on Thursday that it is studying the proposal with a “positive spirit”.

A delegation would travel to Egypt “as soon as possible” to complete the discussions with the aim of reaching “an agreement that fulfils the demands of our people and stops the aggression”, the statement said.

It added that Hamas political bureau leader Ismail Haniyeh had discussed the ceasefire talks in separate phone calls with Egypt's intelligence chief Abbas Kamel and Qatar's Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

Sources close to the negotiations told The National that the militant group continues to seek clarifications from the Egyptians on aspects of the proposals, mainly on the usage of ambiguous words such as “calm” rather than "ceasefire" in some parts of the text.

“Hamas’s response will be mostly seeking clarifications, rejecting and making counter proposals,” said one of the sources.

Another source told The National that the group “needs guarantees that the ceasefire will be permanent and will not end after 40 days. Right now there is no guarantee. So we seek clarification on this”.

Hamas is has rejected Israel’s demand that it must screen and approve materials for the reconstruction of Gaza, the source added. The group is also seeking total suspension of military operations during the stages before a permanent ceasefire, namely all aerial activity, including reconnaissance flights by manned or unmanned aircraft.

Another point requiring clarification, the source said, is the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza’s Netzarim checkpoint “to allow for the return of displaced people from the south to the north”. He said Israel had agreed to withdraw, but how far they would withdraw remained a question and a point of disagreement.

The current deal being discussed, which has been brokered by the US, Egypt and Qatar, would see the release of dozens of hostages in exchange for a six-week halt in fighting as part of an initial phase, according to several diplomatic sources. Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel would also be released, including some serving long sentences.

But the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released in exchange for hostages also remains a point of dispute, the sources said.

“Hamas is keen to reach a deal that ends the aggression and massacres committed against our people, and therefore it is dealing with [the negotiations] with seriousness and great flexibility,” one of the sources said.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week pledged to launch a military operation in the southern Gazan city of Rafah – where the UN estimates 1.5 million Palestinians are seeking shelter – “with or without a deal”.

His comments, made as indirect talks between Israel and Hamas appeared to be making progress, appeared geared to placate his far-right nationalist partners in the government. But the timing of his words begs the question of why Hamas would agree to a truce deal if an operation on Rafah is inevitable regardless of whether a deal is struck.

A Hamas source accused Mr Netanyahu of intentionally using incendiary language to provoke Hamas into refusing the proposal “so he can put the responsibility on us for the talks failing”.

“The reality is that he’s in an embarrassingly difficult position,” the source said. “He said this war won’t end until the captives are free, but he can’t free the captives.”

“If a military operation is forced on us, we’ll have no choice but to face it. What awaits the Israelis in Rafah is a cemetery – not a picnic,” he continued.

Another Hamas source said that the armed movement was “working on two parallel tracks. The first is negotiations to reach a deal that ends the aggression, and the second is confronting the Zionist military aggression against our people anywhere in Gaza”.

“Everyone knows that the two tracks are linked to each other.”

Updated: May 02, 2024, 5:40 PM