TV report: Hamas willing to free only 20 'humanitarian' hostages

Hamas said to demand end of war at start of deal, would only free hostages in 2nd phase

New Hamas proposal, reportedly given to mediators, provides for all hostages to go free — but only after Israel permanently ends war, displaced Gazans return unimpeded to north

People walk by photographs of Israeli civilians held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, April 9, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
People walk by photographs of Israeli civilians held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, April 9, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Having rejected the terms of last week’s Cairo proposal for a hostage-truce deal, the Hamas terror group on Sunday reportedly presented mediators with a proposal of its own that requires Israel to end the war in the first, six-week phase of a three-phase process. No hostages would be freed in those first six weeks. Rather, all the hostages would be freed over the second and third phases, each of them also lasting six weeks, in exchange for large numbers of Palestinian security prisoners.

The proposal, whose terms are far more demanding of Israel than those put forward by US-coordinated mediators last week, further specifies that, during the initial, six-week phase, displaced Palestinians would be allowed to return unimpeded to northern Gaza, and the IDF would withdraw from all urban centers in the Strip.

According to the Qatari-funded Al Jazeera, Hamas has submitted the proposal to the mediators. As of this writing, Israel has not publicly commented on it.

As reported by Al Jazeera and Israel’s Haaretz news daily, Hamas claims that it would utilize the initial six-week phase to locate all the hostages and ascertain their condition. Previous proposals since a weeklong truce in late November, during which 105 hostages were freed, have called for the release of some 40 “humanitarian” hostages — children, women, the elderly and the sick — during an initial six-week truce.

Hamas has rejected all such proposals and conditioned any further hostage releases on Israel ending the war, withdrawing all IDF forces and allowing displaced northern Gazans to return to their homes — demands Israel has rejected as delusional.

Hamas and other terror groups are believed to still be holding 129 of the 253 hostages abducted during its October 7 massacre in southern Israel, not all of whom are alive.

Under its new reported proposal, Hamas would release elderly and sick hostages, civilian women and female soldiers in the course of the second 42-day phase. The reports do not specify how many hostages this would amount to, but the designation would appear to potentially cover some 45 hostages.

An unconfirmed report on Monday evening, on Israel’s Channel 12 news, said Hamas was prepared to free fewer than 20 “humanitarian” hostages. The report said Hamas claims not to hold 40 living “humanitarian” hostages. It quoted an Israeli official saying that the response underlines that Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar “does not want an agreement, and is seeking an escalation of regional conflict.”

Hamas is reportedly demanding the release of 30 Palestinian security prisoners for each civilian hostage — a tenfold increase from the three security prisoners who were freed for each civilian hostage in November’s deal. Israel would reportedly be required to release 50 Palestinian security prisoners per captive female soldier, of whom 30 would be prisoners serving life sentences.

Israel would be required to complete the withdrawal of all IDF troops from Gaza as part of this second phase. The reports were not definitive as to whether the complete withdrawal would be required at the start or in the course of this phase.

In the third and final stage of Hamas’s proposed deal, the rehabilitation of the war-torn Gaza Strip would begin, and all captive male soldiers and men of military age would be released, as well as the bodies of those who have died or been killed in captivity or whose bodies were abducted on October 7.

The reports do not specify how many Palestinian security prisoners Israel would be required to release for each of the hostages in the final phase of the deal.

A poster depicting Israeli hostage Noa Argamani, 26, is displayed next to a memorial in Tel Aviv, April 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Many of the demands laid out by Hamas in its proposal have previously been rejected by Israel as nonstarters, notably including a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the entire Gaza Strip. Israel has said it intends to resume the war once any hostage deal is carried out, in accordance with its two prime declared war goals — securing the freedom of all hostages and destroying Hamas’s military and governance capabilities in Gaza.

Last week’s Cairo proposal, reportedly accepted in principle by Israel, was said to call for a temporary ceasefire of at least several weeks in return for the release of 40 living hostages. Israel would also set free hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners and boost aid to Gaza, where a humanitarian crisis has ballooned amid the fighting.

Hamas announced on Saturday evening that it had submitted its response and was sticking to its original demands for a permanent ceasefire, the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, the return of Palestinians to northern Gaza and other areas, a surge in humanitarian aid and the start of the Strip’s reconstruction.

Displaced Palestinians wait to offer a special morning prayer to start the Eid al-Fitr festival, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, outside a destroyed mosque in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on April 10, 2024. (AFP)

It claimed that it was still prepared to reach an agreement, and its statement did not explicitly reject the proposal, although in Israel, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Mossad intelligence agency said the response amounted to a rejection.

Hamas’s stance, the Mossad said in a rare statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday, proved that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar “is not interested in a humanitarian deal and in the return of the hostages, and continues to take advantage of tensions with Iran to try to unite the theaters and to achieve a general escalation in the region.”

Israel will continue to work to achieve its goals, the statement said, and will “turn over every stone to bring back the 133 hostages from Gaza as soon as possible.”

Of the 253 people abducted in the October 7 Hamas onslaught, in which terrorists slaughtered some 1,200 people, 129 are still in captivity, including 34 who have been confirmed by the IDF to no longer be alive.

Israel also seeks the return of the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed and captured in 2014, as well as the return of two Israeli citizens who entered Gaza of their own accord around that time.

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