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20 Shaban 1445  

Hamas proposes four-month truce for Israel’s withdrawals

Israel says it is 'studying' proposal
Israeli soldiers work by their tanks, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, near the northern Gaza border in Israel, January 30, 2024. Photo via Reuters
Israeli soldiers work by their tanks, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, near the northern Gaza border in Israel, January 30, 2024. Photo via Reuters

Hamas has put out a new proposal to end Israel’s siege of Gaza in return for hostages being freed. Israel says it is ‘studying’ the proposal.

Hamas proposed a ceasefire to quiet the guns in Gaza for four-and-a-half months, during which all hostages would go free, Israel would withdraw its troops from the Gaza Strip and an agreement would be reached on an end to the war.

Israel’s government spokesman said Israel was studying the offer intently, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu due to hold a press conference later on Wednesday.

Israel’s Channel 13 TV quoted an unidentified official as saying some aspects were not acceptable and officials were debating whether to reject the proposal or seek modifications.

The Hamas offer, the contents of which were first reported by Reuters, is a response to an earlier proposal drawn up by U.S. and Israeli spy chiefs and delivered to Hamas last week by Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the offer with Netanyahu after arriving in Israel following talks with the leaders of Qatar and Egypt, the countries that have acted as mediators. Blinken later met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Israel began its military offensive after militants from Hamas-ruled Gaza killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages in southern Israel on Oct. 7. Gaza’s health ministry says at least 27,585 Palestinians have been confirmed killed, with thousands more feared buried under rubble. There has been only one truce so far, lasting just a week at the end of November.

Gaps remain

There remain major gaps between the two sides: Israel has previously said it would not pull its troops out of Gaza or end the war until Hamas was wiped out. But sources described Hamas as taking a new approach to its longstanding demand to end the war, now proposing this as an issue to be resolved in future talks rather than a condition for the truce.

A source close to the negotiations said the Hamas counterproposal did not require a guarantee of a permanent ceasefire at the outset, but that an end to the war would have to be agreed before final hostages were freed.

A second source said Hamas still wanted guarantees from Qatar, Egypt and other friendly states that the ceasefire would be upheld and not collapse as soon as hostages go free. “They want the aggression to stop and not temporarily, not where (the Israelis) take the hostages and then the Palestinian people live in a grinder.”

Israeli government spokesperson Avi Hyman told reporters: “We have received an update, we have received notification from the Qatari negotiators. We are looking at them. The Mossad is looking intently at what was presented to us.”

Ezzat El-Reshiq, a member of the Hamas political bureau, said the group’s aim was “to stop the aggression against our Palestinian people and secure a complete and lasting ceasefire as well as provide relief, aid, shelter and reconstruction.”

Hamas proposes three-phase truce

According to the offer document seen by Reuters and confirmed by sources, during the first 45-day phase all Israeli women hostages, males under 19 and the old and sick would be freed, in exchange for Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails. Israel would withdraw troops from Gaza’s populated areas.

Implementation of the second phase would not begin until the sides conclude “indirect talks over the requirements needed to end the mutual military operations and return to complete calm”.

The second phase would include the release of remaining male hostages and full Israeli withdrawal from all of Gaza. The remains of the dead would be exchanged during the third phase.

“People are optimistic, at the same time they pray that this hope turns into a real agreement that will end the war,” Yamen Hamad, a father-of-four sheltering in a U.N. school in Deir Al-Balah, in central Gaza, told Reuters via a messaging app.

Blinken visit makes things worse

In Rafah, on Gaza’s southern edge where half of the enclave’s 2.3 million people are penned against the border with Egypt, the bodies of 10 people killed by Israeli strikes overnight were laid out in a hospital morgue. At least two of the shrouded bundles were the size of small children. Relatives wept beside the dead.

Palestinian health officials say an Israeli air strike killed another three people in a house in Rafah on Wednesday. The officials added that a senior Palestinian police officer and Hamas member, Majdi Abdel-Al, was killed in an Israeli air strike on a car that was tasked to secure aid trucks in Rafah.

“Every visit from Blinken, instead of calming things down, it just makes things worse, we get more strikes, we get more bombing,” said mourner Mohammad Abundi.

Washington has cast the hostage and truce deal as part of plans for a wider resolution of the Middle East conflict, ultimately leading to reconciliation between Israel and Arab neighbours and creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu has rejected a Palestinian state, which Saudi Arabia says is a requirement for any deal to normalise relations with Israel.

The diplomacy comes as Israel is trying to capture the main city in Gaza’s south, Khan Younis. Last week, Israel said it plans to storm Rafah, a move U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday would “exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences.”

The Israeli military said it had killed dozens of militants in fighting over the past 24 hours. It has made similar claims throughout the fighting in Khan Younis, which could not be independently verified.

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