Hamas said to reject Israeli offer of two-month pause in war for release of hostages

Egyptian officials tells AP the terror group’s leaders won’t accept exile from the Strip and want the IDF to withdraw completely; Israeli officials do not confirm the report

Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, greets his supporters upon his arrival at a meeting in a hall on the sea side of Gaza City, on April 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)
Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, greets his supporters upon his arrival at a meeting in a hall on the sea side of Gaza City, on April 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)

Hamas has rejected Israel’s proposal for a two-month ceasefire during which the terror group would release Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian security prisoners, said a senior Egyptian official on Tuesday, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The official said that Hamas leaders have also refused to leave Gaza and are demanding that Israel fully withdraw from the territory and allow Palestinians to return to their homes.

Israel did not confirm the report. Channel 12 news quoted unnamed Israeli officials saying on Tuesday evening that Israel has not been informed of Hamas rejecting the offer.

Under Israel’s proposal, Yahya Sinwar and other top Hamas leaders in Gaza would be allowed to relocate to other countries.

Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed Al Ansari struck an optimistic tone about mediation efforts during a press briefing Tuesday, saying, “We are engaging in serious discussions with both sides. We have presented ideas to both sides. We are getting a constant stream of replies from both sides and that in its own right is a cause for optimism.”

The Axios news site reported on Monday that Israel had submitted a proposal through Qatari and Egyptian mediators that would see it agree to pause its military offensive in exchange for a phased release of the remaining 136 hostages in Gaza.

The proposal does not heed Hamas’s demand for Israel to end the war completely, but does appear to go further than Israel has gone in previous offers, two Israeli officials were cited as saying.

Demonstrators hold up portraits of hostages held by the Hamas terror group during a rally to demand their release, near the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on January 22, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The offer was publicized as White House Middle East czar Brett McGurk was in the region for meetings with Egyptian and Qatari counterparts aimed at advancing a hostage deal, a US official told The Times of Israel.

The Israeli proposal would see the remaining children, women, men over the age of 60 and critically ill hostages released during the first stage. Subsequent stages would see the release of female soldiers and men under the age of 60 who are not soldiers, followed by male soldiers and the bodies of hostages.

Under the proposal, Israel and Hamas would agree in advance as to how many security prisoners would be released by Jerusalem in each stage, before holding separate negotiations on the names of the convicts.

Troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released on January 23, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

The offer would also include a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the main population centers in the Gaza Strip and the gradual return of Palestinians to the enclave’s north, from which they were ordered to evacuate.

The offer stipulated that Israel will not agree to end the war completely, nor release all 6,000 Palestinian security prisoners, but Israeli officials told Axios that they were willing to release a significant number.

If implemented, IDF operations in Gaza would be significantly smaller in scope after the pause concludes, Axios reported.

The offer is relatively similar to ones that have reportedly been proffered since a seven-day truce ended nearly two months ago. Hamas has insisted that it will not agree to release any hostages unless the fighting in Gaza ceases for good — a nonstarter for Israel, as it would leave those who orchestrated the October 7 massacre in power, and with parts of the Hamas war machine intact.

Friends and family members mourn during the funeral of IDF soldier Hadar Kapeluk in the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem on January 23, 2024, a day after he was killed in combat in the Gaza Strip (Photo by Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

The report followed a meeting Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held with the families of hostages. He told them that “contrary to what has been said, there is no real Hamas proposal,” according to a statement released by his office.

“I tell you this as clearly as I can, because there are so many untrue [claims] that must be torturing you,” the statement quoted Netanyahu as saying.

“On the other hand, we have an [Israel] initiative, and I will not elaborate,” Netanyahu added.

Channel 12 later published a recording from the meeting, in which Netanyahu could be heard saying: “There is a proposal of mine, which I also passed in the war cabinet. We conveyed it and now there is, as they say, a tug of war.

“I can’t elaborate here, but our proposal is something we have passed on to the mediators.”

Netanyahu was reportedly asked during the meeting why Israel could not simply agree to end the war in order to secure the release of the remaining hostages and then restart the fighting once the abductees have been returned.

The premier responded by explaining that such a deal would require Israel to provide assurances to the American, Egyptian, and Qatari mediators that it would not be able to turn around and violate the terms right after the hostages have been released, according to Channel 12.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a meeting with relatives of hostages held in Gaza, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 22, 2024. (Prime Minister’s Office)

Netanyahu’s non-specific mention of an Israeli diplomatic initiative came amid growing international pressure on Israel to end the fighting, as well as an intensifying internal debate over whether continued fighting can secure the return of the remaining hostages, at least 28 of whom are known to have been killed.

On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the United States, Egypt, and Qatar are pushing Israel and Hamas to accept a comprehensive plan that would end the war, free the hostages, and ultimately lead to full normalization for Israel with its neighbors in return for a path to Palestinian statehood.

Netanyahu responded in a video statement, refusing outright to “the end of the war, the exit of our forces from Gaza, releasing all the murderers and rapists of the Nukhba [forces] and leaving Hamas intact.” These, the prime minister said, were the Palestinian terror organization’s demands.

Two hundred and fifty-three people of all ages were abducted by Hamas on October 7, when 3,000 terrorists invaded Israel from the Gaza Strip, killing nearly 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and committing numerous atrocities, including weaponizing sexual violence on a mass scale. In late November, 105 hostages were released during a weeklong “humanitarian ceasefire” mediated by the US and Qatar, but talks of a further deal have languished since that truce collapsed.

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