Israel war cabinet to discuss Hamas response to ceasefire proposal

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Israel’s war cabinet was set to convene on Friday to discuss the latest Hamas response to a potential ceasefire deal in the Gaza war that would also allow for the release of Israeli hostages.

Qatar, Egypt and the US have for weeks been attempting to bridge significant gaps between the two warring parties as part of complex talks aimed at halting the fighting in Gaza and securing the release of more than 130 Israeli hostages still held by Hamas.

Part of the agreement would also require the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails and a vast increase in humanitarian aid and supplies entering Gaza.

However the prospects for a breakthrough appeared slim as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted that the terms on offer would probably not be acceptable. “Hamas is continuing to hold to unrealistic demands,” Netanyahu’s office said late on Thursday after the Palestinian militant group submitted its answer to international mediators.

According to a Reuters report, Hamas is now offering a two-stage agreement where in the first instance Israeli women — including female soldiers — children, the elderly, and injured held in captivity would be released in exchange for more than 700 Palestinian prisoners, including 100 serving life sentences for convictions on terrorism charges. Mediators have previously stated that an initial truce would last for six weeks.

The second stage of the agreement, according to reports of Hamas’s response, would include discussions regarding a permanent ceasefire, a full Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza, and the release of the remaining Israeli hostages in return for all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

“There is positive movement. But [we are] not there yet,” said one person briefed on the talks.

Displaced Palestinian children at their makeshift tent in the Gaza city of Rafah on Thursday © AFP via Getty Images

While the war cabinet and the expanded security cabinet were set to discuss the latest Hamas offer, the meetings were already planned in advance, according to one person familiar with Israeli government deliberations.

Relatives of those Israelis seized during Hamas’s October 7 attack on the Jewish state implored the Netanyahu government to seize the opportunity.

“Do not postpone the deal,” the Hostages Families Forum said in a statement late on Thursday. “For the first time, we can envision embracing them again. Please grant us this right.”

Some 250 Israelis and foreigners were taken hostage during the devastating cross-border raid into southern Israel that triggered the war in Gaza. More than 100 hostages were released as part of a week-long truce between Israel and Hamas last November.

Hamas has been keen to use the hostages as leverage to end the war completely, while Netanyahu remains committed to continuing the offensive — even if it is temporarily halted — until “total victory” over the militant group.

Israeli intelligence believes that Hamas will attempt to use the holy month of Ramadan, which started this week, to “ignite the region” in a bid to increase both diplomatic and military pressure on Israel. Hamas leaders have called on all Palestinians to march on Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, and to barricade themselves inside, in a bid to “defend” the site, considered the third-holiest in Islam.

Israeli authorities have bolstered their security presence around the compound, revered as the holiest in Judaism and known as the Temple Mount. The site has been a constant flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with concern that this year in particular the confluence of Ramadan and the ongoing Gaza war would heighten tensions, especially on the first Friday of the Muslim holiday.

The Hamas attack on southern Israel killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed more than 31,300 people, according to health officials in the Hamas-controlled enclave, and fuelled a humanitarian crisis in the devastated territory.

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