After the Palestinian group responded to a proposal for an extended pause in fighting and hostage releases, mediators from the United States, Qatar, and Egypt initiated a diplomatic push. They aimed to bridge the gap between Israel and Hamas on a ceasefire plan for Gaza. The response from the Palestinian group prompted this diplomatic effort.
Hamas responded on Tuesday to a framework developed more than a week ago by US and Israeli spy chiefs. The meeting took place in Paris with Egyptian and Qatari officials.
The specifics of the response were not disclosed. In a statement released on Tuesday, Hamas said it had responded “in a positive spirit, ensuring a comprehensive and complete ceasefire, ending the aggression against our people, ensuring relief, shelter, and reconstruction, lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip, and achieving a prisoner swap.”
On a quick tour of the Middle East, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that he would discuss Hamas’ response. He plans to engage with Israeli officials during his visit to Israel on Wednesday.
In Doha, he said, “There’s still a lot of work to do … but we continue to believe that an agreement is possible, and indeed essential.”
Qatar described Hamas’ response as “positive” overall, while Egyptian security sources told Reuters that Hamas demonstrated flexibility.
“We will discuss all the details of the proposed framework with the concerned parties to reach an agreement on the final formula as soon as possible,” Diaa Rashwan, Egypt’s State Information Service head, was quoted as saying.
According to sources close to the talks, the truce will last at least 40 days. At that time, the militants will release civilians among the remaining hostages.
Further phases would follow, involving the surrender of soldiers and the bodies of hostages in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. The truce would also enhance the flow of food and other aid to Gaza’s desperate civilians. They are starving and facing severe shortages of basic supplies.
U.S. President Joe Biden said Hamas’ response indicated “some movement” toward a deal. However, it was unclear whether Hamas or Israel were willing to compromise their stated hardline positions in order to reach a truce agreement.
A Hamas official who asked not to be identified told Reuters earlier on Tuesday that the Palestinian Islamist movement would not allow hostage releases unless the war ended, and Israeli forces left Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that Israel will not end its Gaza campaign until Hamas is defeated and has ruled out the establishment of a Palestinian state.
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia communicated to the United States its decision to uphold diplomatic relations with Israel. However, this commitment comes with a condition—Saudi Arabia insists on the recognition of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem. Additionally, the Saudi foreign ministry statement emphasized the importance of halting what they referred to as Israeli “aggression” in Gaza.
In October 2023, sources familiar with Riyadh’s thinking reported that Saudi Arabia suspended US-backed plans to normalize relations with Israel. The decision coincided with an escalation in the conflict between the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Israeli forces.
MORE HOSTAGES MAY BE DEAD
There is a growing Israeli movement demanding more effort to return the hostages, even if it means negotiating with Hamas.
Israel’s military confirmed on Tuesday that 31 of the remaining hostages in Gaza had been killed. Israel previously stated that 136 hostages remained in Gaza after 110 were released under a seven-day truce in November. At that time Israel also released 240 Palestinians.
According to the Wall Street Journal, an Israeli assessment shared with US and Egyptian officials suggests that up to 50 hostages may have died, leaving about 80 alive.
On October 7, militants from Hamas-ruled Gaza killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages in southern Israel, prompting Israel to launch a military offensive.
According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, Israel’s military campaign has killed at least 27,585 Palestinians, with thousands more believed to be buried under rubble.
On the ground in Gaza, Israeli forces on Tuesday maintained pressure on Khan Younis, the main southern city they have been attempting to capture for weeks. Air strikes killed at least 14 Palestinians, according to residents and medics.
Rafah, just south, was also targeted by airstrikes and tank shells. Two people were killed in a strike on a house in Rafah, and six police officers were killed when their car was hit, according to Gaza health officials.
Last week, Israeli leaders vowed to push into Rafah next. This alarmed international aid agencies as a million displaced civilians would be at risk, pinned against the Egyptian border fence.
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