Israel said to offer two-month pause in Gaza fighting for staged release of hostages

Report says proposal does not heed demand by Hamas to end war but appears to go further than past Israeli offers, including significant reduction in IDF ops once fighting resumes

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)
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)

Israel has reportedly submitted a proposal through Qatari and Egyptian mediators that would see it agree to pause its military offensive against Hamas for as long as two months, in exchange for a phased release of the remaining 136 hostages in Gaza.

The proposal does not heed the Hamas demand for Israel to end the war completely, but does appear to go further than Israel has gone in previous offers, according to the Axios news site, which cited two Israeli officials.

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.

Israel is now waiting for Hamas’s response to the new proposal and is cautiously optimistic about the chance for progress in the coming days, the Israeli officials said to Axios.

The Israeli proposal reported by the news site 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 female soldiers and men under the age of 60 who are not soldiers, followed by male soldiers and the bodies of hostages.

The Israeli offer states that 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 these convicts.

A woman walks past posters of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 terror onslaught, on a wall near the Knesset in Jerusalem on January 22, 2024. (Jewel Samad/AFP)

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 stipulates 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 pressed since the 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 completely — a non-starter for Israel, as it would leave those who orchestrated the October 7 massacre in power, and with parts of the Hamas war machine intact.

IDF troops seen operating in the Gaza Strip in an image cleared for publication on January 22, 2024. (IDF)

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 136 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.

Family members of those held by Hamas, organizing through the Hostage and Missing Families Forum, have grown increasingly vocal in their opposition to Netanyahu’s strategy, saying the continued fighting is putting their loved ones at risk. On Sunday evening, the families rallied outside the prime minister’s private residence in Jerusalem to demand he reach a deal for the hostages’ release. On Monday, relatives of hostages crashed a session of the Knesset’s Finance Committee, bearing signs that read: “You will not sit here while they die there.”

Over 250 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.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report

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