Hamas says it will study Israel’s latest response in truce, hostage deal negotiations

Official says terror group will submit answer after proposal has been examined; Egyptian official says mediators working on compromise to answer most of both parties’ main demands

Senior Hamas politburo official Khalil al-Hayya speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in Istanbul, Turkey, April 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Senior Hamas politburo official Khalil al-Hayya speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in Istanbul, Turkey, April 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Hamas said Saturday it was reviewing a new Israeli proposal for a truce and hostage deal, amid intensified efforts to broker an agreement.

“Today, the Hamas movement received the official Zionist occupation response to the movement’s position, which was delivered to the Egyptian and Qatari mediators on April 13,”  Khalil Al-Hayya, deputy head of Hamas’s political arm in Gaza, said in a statement.

“The movement will study this proposal, and upon completion of its study, it will submit its response,” he said.

The terror group official gave no details of Israel’s offer, but said it was in response to a proposal from Hamas two weeks ago.

The mediators are working on a compromise that will answer most of both parties’ main demands, which could pave the way to continued negotiations with the goal of a larger deal to end the war, an Egyptian official said.

Israeli officials hosted a top-level Egyptian delegation for talks on Friday.

An Israeli couple holding an Israeli flag in Jerusalem, walk in front of graffiti calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip since October 7 2023 by Hamas. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

Israel reportedly warned that now is the “last chance” for a truce agreement before the launch of a long-planned IDF assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

There has been “noticeable progress in bringing the views of the Egyptian and Israeli delegations closer,” according to Al-Qahera News, which is linked to Egyptian state intelligence services.

A senior Israeli official told Hebrew media on Friday evening that the talks were “very good, focused, held in good spirits and progressed in all parameters.”

The official told Ynet that the Egyptians seem willing to pressure Hamas toward reaching a deal and that “in the background, there are very serious intentions from Israel to move ahead in Rafah.”

The Israeli official said Israel warned it would not agree to foot-dragging by Hamas, particularly its leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, on the hostage deal in a bid to forestall the Israel Defense Forces operation and noted that reserve forces have been called up. “This is the last chance before we go into Rafah,” the official said, according to Channel 12 news.

It’s a case of “either a deal in the near future, or Rafah,” the source said. Sinwar, the architect of the October 7 massacre, is widely believed to be hiding in the Hamas tunnel network in the Rafah area, with hostages in close proximity as human shields.

The official confirmed that Israel is prepared to settle for the release of fewer than the 40 living hostages as earlier proposed, but also that it will not agree to only 20 hostages being freed, as Hamas reportedly suggested in recent indirect contacts. Rather, said the report, Israel believes that Hamas holds 33 living hostages who meet the so-called “humanitarian” designation — that is, women, children, men aged over 50 and the sick — and is insisting that they all be freed.

The Channel 12 report said this could be a major sticking point if the mediation efforts make headway with Hamas, but stressed that, for now, that is not the case.

Israelis march during a protest by the relatives of hostages held in Gaza by Palestinian terrorists, outside Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv on April 25, 2024, to call for government action to release the hostages. (Jack Guez/AFP)

There was no mention in the report of whether this would be the first phase of a wider deal for all the hostages, of the length of the proposed accompanying truce, or of Hamas’s relentless demand that Israel halt the war altogether as a condition for any further hostage releases.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly ruled out ending the war until Hamas is destroyed as a military and governing force.

The official also said Israel was willing to make further major concessions such as allowing the return of residents to northern Gaza, and possibly to do so without the preferred checks to prevent Hamas members from returning with them. Israel also indicated a willingness to withdraw forces from a key corridor bisecting Gaza in two, Channel 12 said.

People check the damage in a house destroyed by an overnight Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 27, 2024. (AFP)

Channel 12 quoted unnamed defense sources as saying that while Netanyahu should be pushing for a deal as hard as he can, the premier fears opposition on the far-right flank of his coalition, notably from Ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir.

Furthermore, the report said, one reason for the still-delayed ground offensive in Rafah is concern that it will deepen international delegitimization of Israel.

The outlet also said that the defense sources regard tackling Hamas’s four battalions inside Rafah as less critical than securing the Gaza-Egypt border at Rafah to prevent Hamas smuggling in arms and weapons materials.

Israel and Egypt, the report said, are coordinating on a sensor system along the so-called Philadelphi border corridor between Gaza and Egypt.

As the war drags on and casualties mount, there has been growing international pressure for Hamas and Israel to reach an agreement, with the United States pushing for a hostage-truce deal leading to a permanent ceasefire.

However, talks have been stalled for months, as both sides accuse each other of sabotaging potential deals.

It is believed that 129 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive. Hamas has also been 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.

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