Hamas’ response to a new ceasefire proposal was greeted with optimism by mediators, but details emerging from its counterproposal on Wednesday, including a demand for a complete Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza, revealed many of the same sticking points that hampered previous efforts. end the war between Israel and Hamas.
Under the activist group’s proposal, the two sides would observe a three-stage ceasefire over 135 days, each stage lasting 45 days, during which Palestinian hostages and prisoners in Israel would be released. It calls on the Israeli military to leave Gaza completely – a demand that Israeli officials have so far publicly rejected.
Neither Hamas nor Israel has officially released details of the proposal, which they submitted to Egyptian and Qatari mediators on Tuesday evening. A Hamas spokesperson declined to comment and the Israeli prime minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
But the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, considered close to Hamas ally Hezbollah, published a leaked version of Hamas’ counterproposal on Wednesday, offering the most in-depth examination yet of its conditions for ending the fights. A senior Hamas official and an Israeli official close to the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Al-Akhbar’s text matched Hamas’ counteroffer.
Hamas’ willingness to negotiate within a broad framework drawn up by Qatar, Egypt, Israel and the United States during negotiations in Paris late last month was widely seen as a positive step.
But a key point of contention between Israel and Hamas has been how long the truth lasts: Hamas demands a permanent ceasefire, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that Israel will fight until “victory.” complete”.
In the second phase, talks aimed at achieving “complete calm” and an end to military operations by both sides are to be completed, according to the counter-draft.
The Paris framework included plans that would begin with a six-week ceasefire, but Hamas’ counteroffer supplements it with many other details not contained in the original Paris framework, including the number of days that would last each phase of the agreement.
According to Hamas’ proposal, as a first step, Israeli forces would withdraw from residential areas of Gaza. In the next phase, the Israeli army would leave Gaza.
In the first two phases, Hamas would release Israelis and foreign nationals held hostage in the Gaza Strip, while Israel would release some of the more than 8,000 Palestinians imprisoned in its prisons. In the third phase, Israel and Hamas would exchange bodies held in their custody.
About 100 hosts remain alive in Gaza, the vast majority of them kidnapped in the October 7 Hamas attack, as were the bodies of more than 30 others, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office.
Under the first phase, Hamas demands the release of all women, children, elderly people and sick Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. In exchange, Hamas would release all hostages of the same categories still held in Gaza, with the exception of female soldiers.
Another 1,500 Palestinian prisoners would also be released in the first phase, including 500 serving long sentences for their involvement in deadly attacks against Israelis. Hamas would choose the names of the 500 prisoners serving long sentences, the document said.
Last week, Mr. Netanyahu pledged 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 compromise on anything less than total victory,” Mr. 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 while leaving the Palestinian armed group in power in Gaza. But given Israel’s impasse in Gaza, this could be the best possible scenario for the country, he said.
“Under its current policy, Israel cannot bring back the hostages or overthrow Hamas. Since we have reached this crossroads, perhaps it is better to accept the deal rather than being left with nothing,” Milshtein said.
Palestinians would also be allowed to return to their homes in the Gaza Strip during the first stage of the ceasefire, under Hamas’ counter-plan, which would also require a significant increase in humanitarian aid entering the coastal enclave. It calls for at least 500 trucks of aid, fuel and other goods to enter Gaza daily.
Mr Netanyahu said Israel would not allow displaced Palestinians to return to their homes in northern Gaza as long as fighting continued.
Analysts close to Hamas said the group would not be able to make 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 released from an Israeli prison in 2011. “No one will accept that.”
Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official, said in a television interview late Tuesday that the group’s leaders would support a gradual ceasefire and a phased Israeli withdrawal as long as the process ultimately reaches a final conclusion.
“Israel wants to recover all the hostages and then have absolute freedom to return to war, killings and assassinations,” Mr. Hamad told al-Mayadeen, the Lebanese television channel. “But ultimately we need a text that clearly guarantees a comprehensive ceasefire and the withdrawal of occupying forces. »