Hamas says it dropped demand Israel vow upfront to end war, but wants mediators’ guarantees

Terror group seeking commitments that fighting won’t restart, negotiations will continue; Israel reportedly displaying ‘tough stance’; CIA chief said set to join talks in Doha

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 given initial approval for a US-backed proposal for a phased truce and hostage exchange deal in Gaza, dropping a key demand that Israel give an upfront commitment for a complete end to the war, a Hamas and an Egyptian official said Saturday.

At the same time, a key stumbling block appeared to be Hamas’s desire for “written guarantees” from mediators that Israel will continue to negotiate a permanent ceasefire deal once the first phase of a ceasefire goes into effect.

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

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

According to a Walla news report Friday, Mossad chief David Barnea informed Qatari mediators that Israel rejects Hamas’s demand for a written commitment from mediators that the negotiations regarding the second phase of the ceasefire can extend indefinitely if needed.

Axios reported that Washington is working to reach a compromise on the matter that will be acceptable to both sides, and that CIA director Bill Burns will be traveling to Doha next week to join the negotiations.

Cairo will also be hosting Israeli and US delegations to discuss “outstanding issues” in the potential agreement, according to Egypt’s state-affiliated Al Qahera News TV.

Citing a senior official, Al Qahera News reported that Egypt was conducting also talks with Hamas to conclude the ceasefire and hostages-for-prisoners swap deal.

Israel has voiced cautious optimism in recent days that Hamas’s position makes a deal more likely. A source in Israel’s negotiating team, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Friday there was now a real chance of achieving an agreement. That was in sharp contrast to past instances in the nine-month-old war in Gaza, when Israel said conditions attached by Hamas were unacceptable.

IDF troops operating in the Gaza Strip, in an image released on July 5, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Also Saturday, Haaretz cited an unnamed foreign source as saying that Israel had made new demands that may prolong the negotiations. It also quoted an unnamed Israeli source familiar with the negotiations as saying Israel had displayed a “tough stance” in the talks.

“Hamas had already given its approval to the latest stance presented by Israel. But in the meeting on Friday, Israel presented new issues,” the foreign source was quoted as saying.

Several outlets also reported that Israeli sources estimate that the talks are expected to go on for some three weeks.

If an agreement is reached it could deliver the first pause in fighting since last November and set the stage for further talks on ending the devastating nine-month war.

But all sides cautioned that a deal is still not guaranteed.

The Hamas and Egyptian 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 ceasefire 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 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 years-long reconstruction project.

A Hamas source told Reuters the proposal ensures that mediators would guarantee a temporary ceasefire, aid delivery, and withdrawal of Israeli troops as long as indirect talks continue to implement the second phase of the agreement.

Israel has sought to keep the wording on the transition between phase one and two of a deal vague enough to allow it to resume fighting against Hamas in Gaza if it chooses, while Hamas has sought to ensure that Israel will not be able to resume fighting once the sides agree to the initial six-week phase of the deal.

Efforts to secure a ceasefire and hostage release in Gaza have gathered momentum as Barnea traveled to and from Qatar for negotiations and Hamas briefed Hezbollah on its latest proposal.

Hamas on Friday announced that it rejects the presence of foreign forces in Gaza, potentially derailing international plans for the Strip’s postwar governance.

Barnea had arrived in Doha at the head of a slimmed-down delegation to discuss the future of the talks and arrived back in Israel later in the day. Following Friday’s talks in Doha, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to dispatch an Israeli negotiating team for follow-up discussions next week in Qatar, the premier’s office said. The statement stressed that “gaps between the parties” remain.

The Wall Street Journal on Friday cited an official familiar with the hostage talks who said Mossad officials had told mediators that they were optimistic the Israeli cabinet would accept the proposal currently under discussion.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a 40 signatures debate, at the plenum hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on June 24, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s decision to resume talks reportedly outraged the coalition’s far-right flank, which threatened to topple the government if the war ends. Also on Friday, opposition figure Benny Gantz was said to offer Netanyahu a safety net for any “responsible proposal.”

Negotiations mediated by Qatar, Egypt and the US have so far failed to secure a truce in Gaza and release of captives there, since a weeklong ceasefire in November saw Hamas free 105 hostages in return for 240 Palestinian prisoners. Israel believes 116 people remain in Hamas’s hands, though dozens of those are no longer alive.

Israel’s spy chief had traveled Qatar for the latest effort to free hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, almost nine months after the Gaza war was sparked when the terror group led thousands in an assault on southern Israel that left nearly 1,200 people dead and saw 251 kidnapped.

A handout picture released by the Lebanese Hezbollah press office on July 5, 2024 shows Hezbollah Chief Hassan Nasrallah (second right) meeting with a Hamas delegation presided by Khalil al-Hayya (second left) in Beirut. (Hezbollah Military Media Press Office / AFP)

Barnea met with Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.

The White House said it welcomed Netanyahu’s decision to send a delegation on Friday.

The decision came after a Thursday phone call in which US President Joe Biden urged Netanyahu to revive the talks. Walla quoted the US president as telling Netanyahu: “We believe there is a chance now” to bring the hostages home.

The latest round of talks is based on an Israeli proposal outlined by Biden in a May 31 speech.

Talks subsequently stalled, but a senior US official on Thursday said Hamas’s latest response “moves the process forward and may provide the basis for closing the deal,” though “significant work” remained.

The US believed Israel and Hamas had a “pretty significant opening” to reach an agreement, the official said.

Jacob Magid and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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