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Bedour Ibrahim

The third phase would see the return of any remaining hostages

Hamas drops key demand to accept phased US deal on ceasefire، hostages

Saturday 06/July/2024 - 08:33 PM
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Hamas has given initial approval for a U.S.-backed proposal for a phased cease-fire deal in Gaza، dropping a key demand that Israel give an up-front commitment for a complete end to the war، a Hamas and an Egyptian official said Saturday.

The first pause of fighting

The apparent compromise by the militant group — which controlled Gaza before triggering the war with an Oct. 7 attack on Israel — could help deliver the first pause in fighting since last November and set the stage for further talks on ending a devastating nine-month war. But all sides cautioned that a deal is still not guaranteed.

The two officials، who spoke on conditions of anonymity to discuss the ongoing negotiations، said Washington’s phased deal will first include a “full and complete” six-week cease-fire that would see the release of a number of hostages، including women، the elderly and the wounded، in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. During these 42 days، Israeli forces would also withdraw from densely populated areas of Gaza and allow the return of displaced people to their homes in northern Gaza، the pair said.

Over that period، Hamas، Israel and the mediators would also negotiate the terms of the second phase that could see the release of the remaining male hostages، both civilians and soldiers، the officials said. In return، Israel would free additional Palestinian prisoners and detainees. The third phase would see the return of any remaining hostages، including bodies of dead captives، and the start of a yearslong reconstruction project.

“Written guarantees”

Hamas still wants “written guarantees” from mediators that Israel will continue to negotiate a permanent cease-fire deal once the first phase goes into effect، the two officials said.

The Hamas representative told The Associated Press the group’s approval came after it received “verbal commitments and guarantees” from the mediators that the war won’t be resumed and that negotiations will continue until a permanent cease-fire is reached.

“Now we want these guarantees on paper،” he said.

Months of on-again off-again cease-fire talks have stumbled over Hamas’ demand that any deal include a complete end to the war. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has offered to pause the fighting، but not end it altogether until Israel reaches its goals of destroying Hamas’ military and governing capabilities and returning all hostages held by the militant group.

Hamas has previously expressed concern Israel will restart the war after the hostages are released. Likewise، Israeli officials have said they are worried Hamas will draw out the talks and the initial cease-fire indefinitely، without releasing all the hostages.

Netanyahu’s office did not respond to requests for comment، and there was no immediate comment from Washington.

Gaps remained

On Friday، the Israeli prime minister confirmed that the Mossad spy agency's chief had paid a lightning visit to Qatar، one of the key mediators. But his office said “gaps between the parties” remained.

Israel launched the war in Gaza after Hamas’ October attack، in which militants stormed into southern Israel، killed some 1،200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250.