ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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Popular leader Barghouti jailed for life over terror attacks

Hamas seems to rule out key points of truce offer, wants release of Marwan Barghouti

Top Hamas rep says ‘there is no way’ terror group will accept a non-permanent ceasefire; Israeli official puts odds of reaching deal at ‘no more than 50/50’

Fatah terror chief Marwan Barghouti, serving five life terms for murder during the Second Intifada, is escorted by Israeli police into Jerusalem's Magistrate Court to testify as part of a US civil lawsuit against the Palestinian leadership, in January 2012. (Flash90)
Fatah terror chief Marwan Barghouti, serving five life terms for murder during the Second Intifada, is escorted by Israeli police into Jerusalem's Magistrate Court to testify as part of a US civil lawsuit against the Palestinian leadership, in January 2012. (Flash90)

Hamas officials said Friday that the group is studying a proposed ceasefire deal that would include prolonged pauses in fighting in Gaza and swaps of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners, but at the same time appeared to rule out some of its key components.

Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh held a phone call with Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ziad Nakhaleh to discuss the deal, the Gaza-ruling terror group announced. According to a statement from Haniyeh’s office, the two agreed any deal with Israel for the release of hostages must be accompanied by a complete halt to the fighting, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, ending the blockade, reconstruction of the Strip and the freeing of Palestinian security prisoners.

Such steep demands would seem to be non-starters for Israel.

Meanwhile Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Beirut, also said the group remains committed to its initial demands for a permanent ceasefire that would end the war. Hamdan also said the group seeks the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners being held for acts related to the conflict with Israel, including those serving life sentences.

He mentioned two by name, including Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian leader seen as a unifying figure. Barghouti was arrested by Israel in 2002 and is serving five life terms for planning three terror attacks that killed five Israelis during the Second Intifada.

In addition to Barghouti, Hamdan named Ahmad Saadat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group, as well as Hamas prisoners and those from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization. Saadat is serving a 30-year sentence for his role in the 2001 assassination of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Ze’evi.

Hamdan’s comments on the prisoners were the most detailed demands yet to be raised by the group in public.

Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on February 2, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

The insistence on large-scale prisoner releases and an end to the fighting in Gaza put the group at odds with the multi-stage proposal that officials from Egypt, Israel, Qatar and the United States put forth this week. The proposal does not include a permanent ceasefire.

“There is no way that this will be acceptable by the resistance,” Hamdan told Lebanon’s LBC TV on Friday, referring to proposed successive pauses in fighting.

“We have tried temporary truces and it turned out that the Israelis don’t respect these truces but always violate them,” Hamdan said, in an apparent reference to a weeklong truce in November that ended after Hamas failed to provide a new list of hostages for release that met previously agreed criteria and fired rockets at Israel. Hamas claimed various violations by Israel throughout that truce, though these were reportedly dismissed by mediators Qatar and Egypt.

Israeli leaders have said they will keep fighting until Hamas is crushed, even while agreeing to long pauses that are accompanied by the release of hostages.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan speaks during a rally organized by Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group to express solidarity with the Palestinian people, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, May 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

While there is broad support in Israel for efforts to return the 136 hostages held by Hamas — not all of them alive — an end to the war with Hamas still in power in Gaza is anathema to public sentiment in the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed on Wednesday that Israel will not agree to a deal “at any cost,” and that it will not end the war, pull the IDF out of the Gaza Strip or “release thousands of terrorists.”

Hamdan’s remarks reaffirmed statements from other Hamas officials, including the group’s top political leader Ismail Haniyeh, who said Tuesday that the group was studying the terms but remained committed to seeking the “full withdrawal” of Israeli forces from Gaza and steps toward a long-term ceasefire.

Another Hamas official said Friday that the group would answer “very soon” and ask for several unspecified changes. He refused to give any details on what they are seeking or how many hostages would be released in return for how many prisoners.

There have been various, sometimes conflicting reports on the proposed terms of the deal.

Israeli tanks at the border with the Gaza Strip on February 2, 2024 (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

A senior Egyptian official familiar with the discussions on Friday described the proposal to The Associated Press, saying it includes an initial ceasefire of six to eight weeks during which Hamas would release elderly hostages, women and children in return for hundreds of Palestinians jailed by Israel.

Throughout that phase, negotiations would continue on prolonging the ceasefire and releasing more prisoners and hostages. Israel would allow the number of aid trucks entering Gaza to increase to up to 300 daily — from a few dozen currently — and let displaced Gaza residents gradually return to their homes in the north, according to the proposal.

A senior Israeli official told NBC News Friday that it was unclear that a deal would come to fruition.

“I don’t think it’s more than 50/50 it will materialize,” the unnamed senior official said.

Unnamed ministers also told Channel 12 news that a deal was far from certain.

Hamas and other terrorists captured some 250 hostages during their deadly October 7 attack on southern Israel that triggered the war. More than 100 were released during the one-week truce in November, in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Rubble from buildings destroyed in the Gaza Strip is seen from southern Israel, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

Hamas and other terror factions are holding onto 132 hostages taken on October 7. The IDF has said 29 are dead, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. 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.

In his remarks, Hamdan said Hamas wants to free Palestinian prisoners of all factions. The prisoner release is a “national cause, not only for Hamas,” he said.

Alluding to additional points of dispute, Hamdan also said that Israel is carving out a buffer zone on the Gaza side of the border. Israel is widely reported to be planning such a zone, though it has not acknowledged such plans officially. Satellite photos show new demolition along a one-kilometer-wide (0.6-mile-wide) path along the border between Israel and the enclave.

Israel’s war cabinet met earlier this week to discuss the proposal and met again Thursday evening for more talks.

Hebrew media reported Friday that ministers voiced opposition to several elements of the proposed deal, including its phased nature.

Palestinians bury the bodies of people who were killed in fighting with Israel and returned to Gaza by the Israeli military, during a mass funeral in Rafah, Gaza Strip, January 30, 2024. (Fatima Shbair/AP)

Kan news and Channel 13 cited Justice Minister Yariv Levin as saying it was “immoral” to agree to the release of only some hostages at first and then negotiate over others.

Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter agreed, saying: “We should have a single deal and not two phases.”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich warned a pause in fighting would increase international pressure to end the war entirely, and said any who thought otherwise were “deluding” themselves.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said a long pause in fighting “will give Hamas oxygen” and allow it to rebuild its forces while freeing from prison “arch-murderers.”

Likud ministers David Amsalem and Eli Cohen also warned against a weeks-long stoppage of the war, saying it would end Israeli momentum and endanger its achievements in the fighting.

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