ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, UN said to serve as guarantors

Hamas proposes 3-stage 135-day truce and hostage deal, leading to war’s end – reports

Terror group seeking withdrawal of Israeli forces, freedom for 1,500 Palestinian prisoners including 500 serving life in exchange for hostages; demands continued UNRWA role in Gaza

Yahya Sinwar (C), Hamas's Gaza Strip chief, waves to supporters in Gaza City, on April 14, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Yahya Sinwar (C), Hamas's Gaza Strip chief, waves to supporters in Gaza City, on April 14, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Hamas has proposed a ceasefire plan that would see a four-and-a-half-month truce during which hostages would be freed in three stages, and which would lead to an end to the war, in response to a proposed outline sent last week by Qatari and Egyptian mediators and backed by the United States and Israel.

A source close to the negotiations told Reuters that the Hamas counterproposal did not require a guarantee of a permanent ceasefire at the outset, but that an end to the war would have to be agreed on during the truce before the final hostages were freed.

According to a draft document seen by Reuters, the Hamas counterproposal envisions three phases, each lasting 45 days.

During the first 45-day phase, all Israeli women hostages, males under 19 and the elderly and sick would be released, in exchange for female and underage Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails. Israel would withdraw troops from populated areas.

Implementation of the second phase would not begin until the sides conclude “indirect talks over the requirements needed to end the mutual military operations and return to complete calm.”

The second phase would include the release of remaining male hostages and full Israeli withdrawal from all of Gaza. Bodies and remains would be exchanged during the third phase.

Israelis rally to demand securing the release of hostages held by terrorists in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv, February 3, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

By the end of the third phase, Hamas would expect the sides to have reached agreement on an end to the war.

The terror group, which governs Gaza, said in an addendum to the proposal that it sought the release of 1,500 prisoners from Israeli jails, a third of whom it wanted to select from a list of Palestinians serving life sentences.

The truce would also increase the flow of food and other humanitarian aid to Gaza, at a rate of no fewer than 500 trucks per day.

Lebanese news outlet al-Akhbar, thought to have ties to the Hezbollah terror group, also said it had seen the counterproposal from Hamas, apparently including an addendum with far greater detail on the first phase of the proposal.

According to the al-Akhbar report, the first stage would see Israeli forces withdraw from populated areas, and the United Nations would be permitted to set up tent encampments. This phase would also see the cessation of all forms of air activity, including reconnaissance, for the duration of the period.

Palestinians who fled their homes seen near their tents in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on February 5, 2024 (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

The report also said that the prisoners freed from Israeli jails would need to include Arab Israelis.

The report also said that under Hamas’s framework, Gazans would be given freedom of movement, including of the sick and wounded through Rafah to Egypt; heavy equipment would enter the Strip for the removal of rubble; health ministry and civil defense equipment would be replaced; hospitals would be rebuilt; tent cities would be set up to house the population; at least 60,00 temporary homes would be supplied as well as 200,000 tents at a rate of 50,000 per week; the reconstruction of water, electricity and communications networks would start; a plan would be made for the reconstruction of homes, economic establishments and public facilities to take no longer than three years; the fuel to Gaza for the reconfiguration of power plants would resume; Israel would commit to the supply of electricity and water; there would be indirect discussions for a continued ceasefire; and humanitarian services by international organizations including the United Nations, especially UNRWA, would resume.

The specific inclusion of UNRWA is significant, as Israel has said that it would not allow the Palestinian refugee agency to operate in the Strip at the conclusion of the war, after alleging that 12 of the organization’s staffers participated in the Hamas-led October 7 terror onslaught. Israel has long said UNRWA was, willfully or under threat, providing cover for Hamas terrorists.

United Nations and Red Crescent workers prepare the aid for distribution to Palestinians at UNRWA warehouse in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza Strip, on Oct. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Eslaiah)

The Al-Akbar report also said that Hamas stated that the situation on the flashpoint Temple Mount in Jerusalem must return to its pre-2002 status. It is unclear which event was being referred to in that year.

Notably, according to Al-Akbar, the framework has Russia and Turkey as guarantors, in addition to Egypt, Qatar and the UN.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as 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.

Hamas’s framework includes an eventual permanent ceasefire, a nonstarter for Israel, which has vowed to destroy the terror group.

Unnamed Israeli officials told the Ynet news site on Wednesday that “we cannot accept a demand to stop the war,” and highlighted the “demand for the release of 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, including serious terrorists.”

Nonetheless, Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said Doha was “optimistic” after receiving the terror group’s “positive response.” US President Joe Biden, on the other hand, said Hamas’s reply was “a little over the top,” while noting that negotiations were ongoing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Israel’s Mossad spy agency had received Hamas’s response through Qatari mediators and was reviewing the proposal.

Israeli soldiers walk past houses destroyed by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Be’eri, October 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Hamas took over a week to respond to the framework proposal, which was formulated in Paris on January 28 by Israeli, American, Qatari and Egyptian officials, and conveyed to Hamas by Qatar. The original framework has not been officially published but is thought to provide for an extended pause in the fighting in exchange for the staggered release of the remaining Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and the release of a large number of Palestinian security prisoners by Israel.

The proposal was reportedly approved by Israel on January 29, but is only an intended outline for negotiations. The sides would still have to agree on thorny issues, including the length of the truce and the number of security prisoners Israel would have to release.

This could risk toppling Netanyahu’s coalition, where right-wing elements have expressed opposition to the release of large numbers of Palestinian terrorists, even as pressure from the families of the hostages and large swaths of the public grows for the government to strike a deal to save the hostages before it is too late.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed Monday that at least 31 of the hostages held in Gaza are no longer alive. The New York Times said another 20 are also feared dead; the IDF did not confirm this.

Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (L), ruler of Qatar since 2013, in a meeting with Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh (R) and Khaled Mashal in Doha, October 17, 2016. (Qatar government handout)

Hamas’s response was issued while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in the midst of his fifth Mideast diplomacy tour since the start of the war, which was sparked by Hamas’s terror onslaught that killed some 1,200 Israelis and saw another 253 people taken hostage, of whom 132 remain in captivity in Gaza.

Israel subsequently launched a counteroffensive aimed at dismantling Hamas and returning the hostages. More than 27,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. These figures cannot be independently verified, are believed to include fatalities caused by failed rocket fire by Gaza terror groups, and do not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 Hamas gunmen in Gaza, as well as 1,000 terrorists in Israel on October 7. Two hundred and twenty-seven soldiers have been killed in Gaza.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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