Hamas ‘studying’ proposal for six-week pause in hostilities with Israel

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Hamas said it was “studying” a proposal for a temporary truce in its war with Israel that would be used to free hostages held in Gaza, in return for the release of Palestinians prisoners and the delivery of more aid into the besieged strip.

The initiative, which calls for a six-week pause in the conflict, comes after officials from Qatar, Egypt and the US met Israeli intelligence chiefs in Paris in an effort to break a deadlock that has stymied mediation efforts.

Weeks of negotiations had become bogged down over Israel’s refusal to accept Hamas’s demand for a permanent ceasefire at the end of a multiphase arrangement — something mediators were also pushing for — people briefed on the negotiations said.

The latest iteration, agreed in Paris over the weekend, no longer guaranteed a permanent truce, one of the people said. This proposal has now been put to Hamas, although even if the militants signed up, implementation would still need to be agreed upon.

Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement on Tuesday that his group was in the “process of studying it and submitting its response on the basis that the priority is to stop the aggression”.

Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh has called for displaced Gazans to be able to return home © Iranian Presidency/dpa

Hamas was open to any “serious” initiatives provided they led to a “comprehensive cessation” of hostilities, he said, calling for the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, for the almost 2mn displaced Palestinians to be able to return to their homes and for a “serious prisoner exchange”.

Haniyeh, who is based in Qatar, which hosts Hamas’s political office, said he had received an invitation to Egypt to discuss the proposal.

Mediators hoped that if they could get an agreement, they could use the six weeks of calm to work for a permanent ceasefire, the person briefed on the talks said. “There’s no alternative, that’s the problem,” the person said.

Despite hopes that the deal could lead to a halt in fighting and the release of the more than 130 hostages still held in Gaza, there appeared to be huge gaps between the warring parties.

Benjamin Netanyahu has held firm to his earlier positions, with the Israeli prime minister ruling out a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza or the release of “thousands of terrorists” as part of any deal with Hamas.

Palestinian Health Ministry workers bury the bodies of unidentified Palestinians returned by Israel, which is believed to have exhumed them amid the search for Israeli hostages © Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

“None of this will happen. What will happen? Total victory,” Netanyahu said on Tuesday, insisting the war would last until Israel achieved its goals. This meant “eliminating Hamas, returning all of our hostages and ensuring that Gaza never again constitutes a threat to Israel”, he said.

Netanyahu has faced mounting domestic calls to do more to secure the release of the remaining hostages, as well as mounting international pressure to end the offensive on Gaza, which has killed more than 26,000 people, according to Palestinian health officials.

But there is also strong resistance within his far-right coalition for any deal with the militant group behind the October 7 attack that killed about 1,200 people, according to Israel. Militants also seized about 250 hostages.

Ultranationalist ministers in Netanyahu’s coalition have threatened to topple the government if Israel ends the war, or releases Palestinians convicted of serious offences. “A reckless deal = the dismantlement of the government,” national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir wrote on X.

A person familiar with Israel’s deliberations said the likely biggest obstacle to a deal was the number and “calibre” of Palestinian prisoners released in any new agreement. The release of prisoners convicted on terrorism charge would require, by law, the approval of Netanyahu’s entire government, not just the smaller security or war cabinets, the person added.

Qatar, the US and Egypt mediated a temporary truce in November during which Hamas released more than 100 women and children. Israel in return freed 240 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons.

But that deal collapsed in early December, and any new agreement was expected to be far more complex as the remaining hostages include Israeli soldiers and reservists for which Hamas was expected to want to extract a far higher price.

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