IDF says troops battling gunman in central Gaza corridor

Hamas could agree to free some hostages before permanent ceasefire in Gaza – report

Lebanese outlet says deal would include ‘proportionate’ release of Palestinian prisoners, return of displaced north Gazans; Israel said insisting on 40 living captives in 1st stage

Demonstrators call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terror group, during a rally marking six months to the war, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 7, 2024. (Ahikam Seri/AFPTV/AFP)

The Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper reported Wednesday that Hamas was willing to consider a hostage release deal that would see IDF troops gradually retreat from the Gaza Strip and Israel eventually agree to an end to the fighting.

The potential agreement would also reportedly include complete access to the northern Strip for all displaced Gazans, and what the Hezbollah-linked outlet called a “proportionate” release of Palestinian prisoners for the hostages.

The reported position appeared to open the door to the possibility of Israel getting some hostages without first committing to a permanent end to the war or a complete withdrawal of all troops, which Hamas had previously insisted on.

The newspaper, quoting “sources involved in the ongoing negotiations,” said the terror group has told Qatar and Egypt that it is not interested in any further discussion unless its conditions are met, claiming this is the same stance it presented in the last round of talks.

“Arab and international parties will not succeed in amending the position,” a source told Al-Akhbar.

According to the sources, Hamas is willing to eventually release all captives, including soldiers and remains, over three 42-day stages.

Families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip and their supporters call for a deal to release the captives, outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, April 9, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The first stage would see Israeli troops, who are currently only deployed in a corridor through central Gaza, move away from Al-Rashid Road on the coast toward the eastern side of the Strip, allowing unfettered movement from south to north.

Aerial activity would cease, meaning an end to Israeli airstrikes or reconnaissance missions over the enclave.

During this stage, Hamas would release all civilian women, children, elderly and sick hostages, in exchange for Palestinian women, minors, elderly and infirm prisoners, at a rate of 30 inmates for every hostage.

Hamas would then release female soldiers at a price per soldier of 50 Palestinians — 30 serving life sentences and 20 others chosen by Hamas.

Israel would also have to release all 48 prisoners freed in the Gilad Shalit deal who were rearrested.

The second stage would see the release of male soldiers and male civilian hostages in exchange for prisoners. The stage would only commence once Israel commits to a permanent ceasefire and all troops withdraw from Gaza.

IDF soldiers operate inside the Gaza Strip in an undated handout photo published April 10, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The third stage would include the exchange of bodies and the comprehensive reconstruction of Gaza, as well as an end to Israel’s blockade of the Strip.

The agreement would also see Israel allow 600 aid trucks to enter Gaza daily from the start, including 50 filled with fuel; 300 of the trucks would be earmarked for northern Gaza. Heavy machinery for clearing rubble would also need to be allowed in from the first stage.

It is believed that 129 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive. One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown. Hamas is also holding two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, respectively, along with the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014.

Meanwhile, Israel has reportedly insisted to Hamas that it release 40 living hostages as part of the first stage of the proposed truce agreement.

According to the Hebrew-language media reports on Tuesday, Hamas has said it isn’t holding 40 living hostages who are elderly or civilian women or female soldiers.

Hamas, however, is refusing to initially free any male soldiers or other men it captured on October 7 and therefore wants to release fewer than 40 hostages, the Kan public broadcaster said, describing the issue as the biggest obstacle in the ongoing negotiations.

The broadcaster also quoted an Israeli official insisting Hamas does in fact have 40 captives who meet the criteria for release.

Channel 12 news, which had a similar report, cited a senior diplomatic official who accused Hamas chief in Gaza Yahha Sinwar “of constantly dragging his feet and opposing an agreement.”

Israeli demonstrators call on the government to secure the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas during a rally marking six months since the outbreak of war against the terror group, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

A Wednesday report claimed unnamed Israeli officials are already blaming the expected failure of hostage-truce talks in Cairo on the pullback of troops from Khan Younis and the surge in humanitarian aid reaching the Strip, saying Hamas won’t compromise after getting so much for free.

According to the Ynet news site, some officials in Jerusalem think both moves “really hurt negotiations.”

“We gave up our strong cards for nothing,” and now Hamas’s position is even tougher to crack, Ynet quoted Israeli sources as saying. “Hamas is digging in with its demands for an end to a war and a troop withdrawal, and is determined to play tricks with the mediators.”

The army has said it pulled out of Khan Younis because operations there were finished and troops need a break before a planned push into Rafah.

Tuesday saw the highest number of aid trucks enter Gaza since the start of the war amid rising concerns of famine and growing international pressure.

A displaced man makes tea in front of a tent on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr festival, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on April 10, 2024 (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

The IDF said Wednesday that Nahal Brigade soldiers are still battling Hamas gunmen in the central Gaza corridor that is the only location where troops remain in the enclave.

The military said the troops killed several gunmen over the previous day, including a cell in close-quarters combat, and released footage of operations within the so-called Netzarim corridor.

Troops have withdrawn from the north and south of the Strip, but remain in the corridor, a strip of land running from the border with Israel near Be’eri to the coast.

The corridor, built around a road south of Gaza City and north of Nuseirat, enables the IDF to carry out raids in northern and central Gaza while allowing Israel to control access to the north for Palestinians seeking to return after fleeing south.

The corridor also allows Israel to operate a crossing with nearly direct access to northern Gaza for trucks of humanitarian goods, which are secured by the army while using the artery.

The army also said it was continuing to carry out airstrikes across the Strip, hitting dozens of targets with fighter jets and drones over the past day.

According to the IDF, the targets included military sites, rocket launchers, tunnel shafts, and other infrastructure. One airstrike targeted a Hamas cell that posed a threat to ground troops, the IDF says.

Among the sites hit were a building and rocket launcher in Jabaliya in northern Gaza used to fire a rocket at Kfar Aza in southern Israel a day earlier. The rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system.

Palestinians walk through the destruction in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, April 8, 2024 (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Israel launched its offensive on the Strip following its Hamas rulers’ October 7 onslaught on southern Israel, in which thousands of terrorists killed some 1,200 people and took 253 hostages.

Israel’s military response has destroyed about half the Strip’s residences, displacing over a million people, many of whom have sought refuge in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where Israel has pledged to launch a campaign despite allies’ opposition.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 33,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting so far, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas gunmen Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7. Some 260 IDF soldiers have been killed in the Gaza fighting.

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