Hamas proposes lengthy ceasefire as part of Israel hostage deal

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Hamas is demanding a four-and-a-half month ceasefire in Gaza, an Israeli military withdrawal from the territory and the release of at least 1,500 Palestinians prisoners as part of a proposed three-phase deal to secure the release of all the remaining hostages held by the militant group.

The details came as part of Hamas’s response to a framework agreement brokered in Paris 10 days ago at a meeting between top officials from Qatar, Egypt, the US and Israel aimed at securing a hostage deal and truce in the four-month war.

The proposal, which envisages the agreement running for 135 days, and a cessation of hostilities to “achieve a complete and sustainable calm” was published in al-Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper close to Lebanese militant group Hizbollah, a Hamas ally. It was verified to the Financial Times by a person briefed on Hamas’s position.

But securing Israeli agreement for such terms will be difficult, underscoring the challenge faced by mediators. The initial draft framework had proposed a shorter, initial six-week pause in hostilities, while Israeli politicians have expressed resistance to releasing large numbers of high-value Palestinian prisoners.

More than 130 Israelis remain in captivity in Gaza after they were seized during Hamas’s October 7 cross-border attack that sparked the war, although the Israeli military has confirmed that at least 31 of them have died.

Qatar, Egypt and the US have spent weeks mediating the deal in the hope it can be used to work towards a ceasefire to end the conflict. Hamas had previously insisted on a permanent ceasefire to be part of any agreement, but Israel rejected the demand.

Hamas’s latest proposal calls for the three phases to each extend for 45 days, with the first “humanitarian” period leading to the release of Israeli women, children, the elderly and injured held in Gaza. It calls for a “complete cessation” of military operations by both sides, and the redeployment of Israeli forces “far outside” major population centres in Gaza.

In exchange for the release of hostages, Hamas wants Israel to release 1,500 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, mostly women and children, but also 500 Palestinians serving life sentences.

The militant group is also demanding a vast increase of humanitarian aid into the besieged enclave, the start of reconstruction efforts and the return of more than 1mn displaced Gazan residents to their homes.

The second phase of the deal, according to Hamas, would lead to the release of all male Israeli hostages, including soldiers, in return for an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners. Hamas would also expect the complete withdrawal of the Israeli military “outside the borders of all areas of the Gaza Strip,” during the second 45-day period.

The third and final phase would be used to return the bodies of deceased Israeli hostages and Hamas militants, and calls for continued measures to lift all restrictions on the entry and exit of people and goods from Gaza.

After receiving Hamas’s proposal on Tuesday, Qatari prime minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said of the militant group’s response that “in general it is positive” but provided no details.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken, who was in Doha, said a hostage deal was the “best path to get an extended period of calm” in Gaza but did not comment on Hamas’s proposal.

“We continue to believe that an agreement is possible, and indeed essential,” the top US diplomat said. Blinken holds talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as part of his fifth tour to the region since the war erupted.

But the terms, as outlined by Hamas, are likely to be challenging for Israel to accept. Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel would not release “thousands” of Palestinian prisoners and would not agree to any deal that called for an end to the war. The long-serving premier has vowed to continue the offensive in Gaza until “total victory” over Hamas is secured.

The debate over a Hamas hostage deal has come to dominate Israeli politics, with relatives of those in captivity demanding that Netanyahu’s rightwing government “pay any price” for the return of their loved ones.

Gadi Eisenkot, a member of Netanyahu’s five-person war cabinet, said in an interview last month that the release of the hostages had to be the war’s main objective, above the destruction of Hamas. But Netanyahu’s far-right allies, including national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, have threatened to topple the governing coalition if a “reckless” deal is agreed.

Any deal to release Palestinian prisoners serving lengthy sentences for serious terrorism charges would also face opposition in the full Israeli cabinet, which by law has to approve any such move, analysts said.

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