Hamas accepts ceasefire deal as Israeli delegation heads to mediators for talks

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh says 'ball is now in Israel's court' to accept or reject proposal

Palestinians celebrate in a street in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, after Hamas announced it accepted the truce proposal on May 6. AFP
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The Palestinian group Hamas has accepted a ceasefire deal put forward by Egypt and Qatari mediators to halt the seven-month war with Israel in Gaza.

But Israel seemed to rebuff the proposed truce terms and increased its attacks on Rafah.

In a statement on its official website, Hamas says its leader Ismail Haniyeh held a phone call with the Qatari Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman, and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, and told them of the group's approval of their proposal for a ceasefire deal.

Hamas has published a copy of the ceasefire and hostage release proposal that it said it had agreed to on Monday evening, but the Israeli government warned these failed to meet its "essential demands".

The proposal outlines a phased release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza alongside the gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops from the entire enclave, ending with a “sustainable calm” or “permanent cessation of military and hostile operations".

The first stage would last 42 days and involve a partial withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip.

It would include the release of about 33 hostages held in the territory, including the remaining Israeli women – civilians and soldiers – as well as children, older adults and people who are ill.

Thirty Palestinian prisoners held in Israel would be released in exchange for each Israeli civilian hostage and 50 in exchange for each female soldier.

Palestinians displaced in Gaza would be allowed to return to their home neighbourhoods during that time.

The parties would then negotiate the terms of the next stage, under which the remaining civilian men and soldiers would be released, while Israeli forces would withdraw from the rest of Gaza.

This phase would depend on a “sustainable calm.”

The final stage would involve exchange of the bodies of hostages who died in captivity and the start of a reconstruction plan for the enclave that would take place over three to five years.

It would be “under the supervision of a number of countries and organisations, including, Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations".

Reuters reported that a Hamas delegation will visit Cairo soon to discuss the ceasefire agreement and the next steps.

The Israeli government said on Monday evening that it will send a delegation to mediators to discuss the truce proposal accepted by Hamas, which it called "far from Israel's demands".

"Even though the Hamas proposal is far from Israel's essential demands, Israel will send a working-level delegation to the mediators," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement after a war cabinet meeting.

"The war cabinet has unanimously decided that Israel is continuing the operation in Rafah to exert military pressure on Hamas in order to advance the release of our hostages and the other objectives of the war."

Israel's military spokesman said on Monday that all proposals regarding negotiations to free hostages in Gaza are examined seriously, and that the military continues operations in the Hamas-ruled territory.

Asked if Hamas's acceptance of the proposed deal would affect the planned offensive in Rafah, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said: "We examine every answer and response in the most serious manner and are exhausting every possibility regarding negotiations and returning the hostages.

"In parallel, we are still operating in the Gaza Strip and will continue to do so."

Israel’s far-right National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has responded to Hamas’s truce agreement by saying the group is playing games that have only “one answer, an immediate order to occupy Rafah".

“Increasing military pressure, and continuing the complete defeat of Hamas, until its complete defeat,” he added in a post on platform X.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said in a social media post on X that: "A government wishing to return the hostages would convene an emergency cabinet meeting and send the negotiating team to Cairo, not hysterically brief three different statements crushing the families' hearts.

"It's a national disgrace. There's no end."

Some media reports in Israel have suggested the proposal might be rejected by the government.

Channel 13 said that Hamas has accepted a watered-down Egyptian proposal, which is not acceptable to the Israelis, while Channel 12 is reporting that the Israeli negotiating team is studying Hamas's acceptance, and will issue an official response.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh told him on Monday that the ball is now in Israel's court.

International reactions

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah El Sisi called on all parties to exert more effort to reach a deal in Gaza.

In a post on social platform X, he said that he was “closely following he positive developments taking place in the current negotiations to reach a comprehensive truce in the Gaza Strip.

"And I call on all parties to make more efforts to reach an agreement that will lead to an end to the humanitarian catastrophe that the Palestinian people are suffering from and to achieve the swap of hostages and prisoners.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on the international community to pressure Israel to accept the proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza mediated by Egypt and Qatar after Hamas had accepted it, Palestinian official news agency Wafa reported.

Meanwhile, Washington confirmed that it has received a response by Hamas to a ceasefire deal.

“We are reviewing that response now and discussing it with our partners in the region,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. “[CIA] Director [William] Burns is in the region working on this in real time.”

Mr Miller declined to go into the details of what Hamas’s response was.

“We will be discussing this response with our partners over the coming hours," he said.

"We continue to believe that a hostage deal is in the best interests of the Israeli people. It's in the best interest of the Palestinian people.

"It would bring an immediate ceasefire, it would allow increased movement of humanitarian assistance and so we're going to continue to work to try to reach one."

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “We are at a critical stage.”

“We got a response from Hamas,” he said. “We’re currently reviewing that response and we’re discussing it with our partners in the region.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed the decision by Hamas to accept the ceasefire, adding he hopes Israel would do the same.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting, Mr Erdogan called on western countries to increase pressure on Israel's leadership to accept the ceasefire.

"We welcome the statement by Hamas that they accepted the ceasefire with our suggestion. Now, Israel must take the same step," he said.

Updated: May 07, 2024, 6:18 AM