Senior Hamas official claims changes are 'not significant'

Negotiations stuck on Hamas demand for Israeli up-front commitment to permanent truce

Terror group has reportedly demanded expedited schedule for IDF to leave Gaza, insisting on a withdrawal in first week of deal, with Russia, China and Turkey to act as guarantors

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Demonstrators call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, June 5, 2024. (Itai Ron/Flash90)
Demonstrators call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, June 5, 2024. (Itai Ron/Flash90)

Hamas is seeking to change the terms of a proposed hostage release and ceasefire deal with Israel by pushing forward a full Israeli military withdrawal from the Gaza Strip into the very initial stages of a phased implementation, as well as insisting that it be a clear end to the war, according to various reports on the amendments the terror group wants to insert into the plan.

In addition, Hamas is demanding that Russia, China, and Turkey act as guarantors that Israel will stop fighting, according to reports Wednesday and Thursday.

Last month the Biden administration strongly pushed what it said was an Israeli proposal for a ceasefire and urged the terror group to accept the deal. The three-phase plan reportedly envisioned a full Israeli withdrawal only after an initial six-week truce during which the pullout was to be negotiated.

Hamas finally responded 12 days later, announcing Tuesday that it wanted to make “amendments.” Washington said some of the changes were “not workable” and publicly questioned if the terror group was really seeking to end the war that it started on October 7 when it led a massive attack on Israel’s south.

“Hamas has proposed numerous changes to the proposal that was on the table… Some of the changes are workable, some are not,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday. “We’re determined to try to bridge the gaps, and I believe those gaps are bridgeable. That doesn’t mean they will be bridged,” Blinken said.

The primary issue complicating negotiations is that Hamas is demanding an Israeli guarantee up front that it will agree to a permanent ceasefire, two officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.

The Israeli proposal submitted on May 27 stopped short of this, instead requiring the sides to first agree to a six-week truce, during which some hostages would be released and the sides would hold talks on a permanent ceasefire to begin in phase two of the deal. That phase would reportedly see the release of more hostages, the establishment of a permanent ceasefire, and a full Israeli withdrawal. The third phase would include the release of bodies of hostages and agreements on the reconstruction of Gaza. Israel is also expected, as part of the deal, to release a large number Palestinian security prisoners, including many who are serving life terms for terror offenses.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, June 9, 2024 (Screen grab)

The phase-one negotiations regarding the terms of a permanent ceasefire could extend beyond the initially allotted six-week timeframe if talks are ongoing, but Hamas took issue with the proposal giving Israel the right to resume fighting if the terror group is deemed to not be meeting its commitments, an Arab diplomat and a second source familiar with the matter explained.

The officials acknowledged that there were other revisions that Hamas’s response sought to make to the Israeli offer, but they insisted that those amendments were marginal and could be solved if Israel agreed to a permanent ceasefire up front.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly asserted that Israel will not agree to a deal that ends the war before Israel achieves its aim of dismantling Hamas’s governing and military capabilities in the Gaza Strip.

He has claimed that the not-fully-publicized Israeli proposal would allow Israel to do so, but portions leaked to the press earlier this week have contradicted this.

Hamas is making the demand for a commitment to a permanent ceasefire up front because it fears Netanyahu will only implement phase one of the deal — which would see the release of the remaining living female, elderly, and sick hostages — before finding a pretext to resume the fighting, the two officials said.

In addition, Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar outlet reported that Hamas is demanding that the IDF start its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip on day one of the first phase, with the key Salah a-Din and Al-Rashid highways, the army facilities in Netzarim, the Philadelphi Route along the Egypt-Gaza border and the Rafah Border Crossing all vacated by the seventh day.

If Israel doesn’t commit to a full withdrawal from Gaza by the seventh day, the release of hostages will stop, according to the reported Hamas response.

IDF troops seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo cleared for publication on June 11, 2024. (IDF)

A Hamas source told the Haaretz newspaper: “The amendments that were submitted are intended to ensure that the withdrawal and ceasefire be established in the first phase and that Israel will not be able to evade the implementation of all stages of the deal and return to fighting once all the hostages are released.”

A senior Hamas leader told Reuters on Thursday that the requested changes are “not significant.”

Hamas also demands that it be allowed to select a list of 100 Palestinians serving long sentences to be released from Israeli prisons as part of the deal, the senior Hamas leader said.

Hamas objected to the Israeli document’s exclusion of that demand, as well as the stipulation that no prisoners with more than 15 years left on their sentences be released, said the Hamas official.

“There are no significant amendments that, according to Hamas leadership, warrant [Israeli] objection,” said the Hamas leader.

Kan reported that the additional demand that China, Russia, and Turkey serve as guarantors for any agreement was rejected by both the US and Israel.

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Israel-Hamas war, from the State Dining Room of the White House, May 31, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In a statement Wednesday, Hamas claimed it has shown “full positivity” in efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement with Israel. It further urged the US to direct its pressure against Israel to accept a deal leading to a permanent ceasefire in the enclave.

Hamas said that while US officials have said Israel has accepted the ceasefire proposal outlined by Biden on May 31, “we have not heard any Israeli official confirm this acceptance.”

Netanyahu’s office has not released an on-record reply, but a statement was issued by an anonymous Israeli official who said the group’s response had “changed all of the main and most meaningful parameters,” amounting to a rejection of the proposal on the table.

Negotiations for a potential hostage and ceasefire deal will continue, despite Israel viewing Hamas’s response to the latest proposal as a full-on rejection, Haaretz reported, citing an Israeli official and a foreign official, both familiar with the talks.

“The talks will continue now through the Qatari and Egyptian envoys in coordination with the US, to see if an agreement can be reached,” the outlet quoted one of the unnamed officials as saying.

Passersby observe the photos of hostages held in the Gaza Strip that are plastered to the walls of a plaza known as Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 17, 2024 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty).

Some 1,200 people in southern Israel were massacred in the Hamas-led October 7 invasion. The 3,000 terrorists who burst into the country from the Gaza Strip also abducted 251 people.

The months since have seen a drip of reports on hostages killed in captivity, with Israel confirming that roughly one-third of the remaining 120 abductees are dead.

On Monday Channel 12 published what it said was the Israeli proposal, which apparently includes an Israeli commitment to end the war even before all the hostages are released while also allowing Hamas to remain a governing force in Gaza. Netanyahu’s office branded the story “a total lie.”

The US has insisted that the hostage deal proposal will help ensure Hamas is removed from power but has offered limited details on how that would come about.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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