War cabinet said to discuss Qatari deal for hostage release, exile of Hamas leaders

Proposal would reportedly see end to Israel’s Gaza offensive; Hamas said to reject any offer that does not keep it in power in the territory

Jews pray for the IDF's success in the war against Hamas, for the return of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, and in memory of the people murdered in the October 7 massacre, at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in the Old City of Jerusalem, January 10, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Jews pray for the IDF's success in the war against Hamas, for the return of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, and in memory of the people murdered in the October 7 massacre, at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in the Old City of Jerusalem, January 10, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Israel’s war cabinet on Wednesday reviewed a new Qatari proposal for a hostage release deal and ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, according to multiple reports. The offer was said to go beyond a temporary truce, providing a roadmap for ending the war that includes Hamas’s leaders going into exile and Israel withdrawing its troops from the Strip.

According to reports on channels 12 and 13, Ynet and other outlets, the “preliminary” proposal from Doha would see Israel allow Hamas leaders to leave Gaza in exchange for the gradual release of all of the remaining captives, as well as the Israel Defense Forces concluding its offensive.

Israeli governmental and military officials have repeatedly stated that the IDF will not stop fighting until it has ended the terror group’s rule in Gaza.

Sky News Arabic reported that in response to the Qatari proposal, Hamas was demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the hostages, and would not accept a deal that does not allow it to continue to govern the Strip — where it has ruled since 2007 — as well as guarantees a complete end to the fighting.

Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been serving as mediators between Israel and Hamas in weeks of intermittent talks to secure the release of more Israeli hostages. An Egyptian official told the Associated Press that an Israeli delegation landed in Cairo earlier Wednesday for a new round of talks with Egypt on a possible deal.

Some 240 hostages were abducted when Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border on October 7 and rampaged through southern communities, massacring some 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released for publication on January 10, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

It is believed that 132 hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 25 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

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.

According to al-Akhbar, a pro-Hezbollah newspaper in Lebanon, Egypt’s Intelligence Minister Abbas Kamel is in contact with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad over a deal, urging them to send delegates to Cairo for discussions.

The terror groups were reportedly uninterested in the talks unless a proposal with their demands was presented.

In a briefing Wednesday, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz stressed that the priority of the ongoing campaign was the return of the captives.

“The most important thing is returning the hostages; it is prioritized over all elements of fighting,” he said. “To the hostages, if you can hear me, I want you to know that we’re doing everything we can to bring you back to your loved ones.”

Asked about the proposed Qatari-Egyptian deal, Gantz said, “I’ve heard all sorts of rumors about deals, but there is always movement and activity, and as soon as there is something ready we will update you.”

Ahead of the planned cabinet meeting, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum demanded that the cabinet approve any deal that will lead to a release.

“The reports about a new deal that will be presented to the cabinet this evening offer a little hope to the families who are anxious about the fate of their loved ones,” said the statement from the forum. “The war cabinet must not concern itself with anything other than the return of the abductees. We demand that they approve any deal that will lead to their immediate release alive!”

Men attend a mass prayer event for Israeli hostages in Gaza on January 10, 2024, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

Meanwhile, thousands of Jews, most of them observant, thronged the alleyways of the Old City of Jerusalem Wednesday as they arrived at a mass prayer for the hostages in Gaza at the Western Wall Plaza, which was at capacity.

David Lau, the chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel, read from Psalms, followed by his Sephardic counterpart, Yitzhak Yosef, and other prominent rabbis praying on the southern balcony overlooking the Western Wall. The mass prayer was initiated by both chief rabbis, who said it was intended to “cry out and beg and elicit the mercy of heavens on the whole of Israel.”

The rabbis recited selichot, penitential poems and prayers, alongside some relatives of hostages held in Gaza as well as soldiers fighting there. Prayers for the safety of the hostages and soldiers followed.

In the area leading to the plaza, activists for the hostages’ release held up posters and banners with pictures of captives. The prayer, occurring on the eve of the first day of the Hebrew calendar month of Shevat, featured repeated shofar blasts — an unusual occurrence.

“I’m 69, so I don’t serve in the army, but the call to this prayer is my draft order,” said Emmanuel Ohaiun, who traveled to the Western Wall from Shlomi, a town near Israel’s northern border. “There is the war on the ground, and there is holy warfare that I have come to fight.”

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