Hamas’s response to a new ceasefire proposal has been met with optimism by mediators, but the details that emerged from its counterproposal on Wednesday, including a demand for a full Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza, revealed many of the same points. conflicts that have hindered previous efforts. end the war between Israel and Hamas.
Under the militant group’s proposal, both sides would observe a ceasefire in three stages for 135 days, each stage lasting 45 days, during which Palestinian hostages and prisoners in Israel would be released. It calls for the Israeli military to leave Gaza completely, a demand that Israeli officials have so far publicly rejected.
Neither Hamas nor Israel formally released details about the proposal, which they presented to Egyptian and Qatari mediators on Tuesday night. A Hamas spokesman declined to comment and the Israeli prime minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
But the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, considered close to Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, published a leaked version of Hamas’ counterproposal on Wednesday, offering the closest look yet at its terms for ending the fighting. A senior Hamas official and an Israeli official familiar with the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the text in Al-Akhbar matched Hamas’ counteroffer.
Hamas’s willingness to negotiate under a broad framework drawn up by Qatar, Egypt, Israel and the United States at talks in Paris late last month has been widely seen as a positive step.
But a key point of contention between Israel and Hamas has been the length of the truce: Hamas is demanding a permanent ceasefire, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that Israel will fight until it achieves “complete victory.”
During the second phase, according to the counterproposal, talks aimed at achieving “complete calm” and the end of military operations on both sides must be completed.
The Paris framework laid out plans that would begin with a six-week ceasefire, but Hamas’ counteroffer completes it with many more details that were not contained in the original Paris framework, including the number of days each phase of the agreement would last. .
According to the Hamas proposal, in the first stage, Israeli forces would withdraw from residential areas of Gaza. In the next phase, the Israeli army would leave Gaza.
During the first two phases, Hamas would release Israelis and foreigners held hostage in the Gaza Strip, while Israel would release some of the more than 8,000 Palestinians imprisoned in its prisons. During the third phase, both Israel and Hamas would exchange the bodies in their custody.
About 100 live hostages remain in Gaza, the vast majority of them kidnapped in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, as do the bodies of more than 30 others, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office.
As part of the first phase, Hamas demands the release of all Palestinian women, children, elderly people and sick Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. In exchange, Hamas would release all of the same categories of hostages still in Gaza, except for the female soldiers.
Another 1,500 Palestinian prisoners would also be released during the first phase, including 500 serving long sentences for their role in deadly attacks against Israelis. Hamas would choose the names of the 500 prisoners serving long sentences, the document says.
Last week, Netanyahu vowed that Israel would not release thousands of Palestinian prisoners or withdraw Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip under the terms of a ceasefire agreement. “We will not make concessions on anything short of a total victory,” Netanyahu said in a speech in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Michael Milshtein, a former senior Israeli military intelligence officer, said the proposed deal would effectively end the war with Hamas and leave the Palestinian armed group in power in Gaza. But given the stalemate Israel finds itself in Gaza, that might be the best possible scenario for the country, he said.
“Under its current policy, Israel is failing to bring home the hostages or overthrow Hamas. Since we have reached this crossroads, perhaps it is better to accept the agreement rather than be left with nothing,” Milshtein said.
Palestinians would also be allowed to return to their homes throughout the Gaza Strip during the first stage of the ceasefire, according to Hamas’ counterproposal, which would also call for a significant increase in humanitarian aid entering the coastal enclave. It calls for a minimum of 500 trucks carrying aid, fuel and other goods to enter Gaza daily.
Netanyahu has said Israel will not allow displaced Palestinians to return to their homes in northern Gaza while fighting there continues.
Analysts close to Hamas maintained that the group would not be able to offer concessions on the thorniest issues in the negotiations.
“Keeping an occupation soldier in Gaza would be a defeat and a catastrophe,” said Salah al-Din al-Awawdeh, a Palestinian analyst close to Hamas who was released from an Israeli prison in 2011. “No one will accept that.”
Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official, said in a televised interview Tuesday night that the group’s leadership would support a gradual ceasefire and a gradual Israeli withdrawal as long as the process ultimately led to a final truce.
“Israel wants to capture all the hostages and then have the absolute freedom to return to war and to kill and murder,” Hamad told Al Mayadeen, the Lebanese broadcaster. “But in the end, we need a text that clearly guarantees a comprehensive ceasefire and the withdrawal of occupation forces.”