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Hamas accepts draft hostage swap proposal

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Hamas has said it has broadly accepted a proposal to free dozens of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and a temporary ceasefire in its seven-month war with Israel.

According to a statement on Hamas’ Telegram channel, Ismail Haniyeh, the militant group’s Doha-based political leader, told the Qatari premier and Egypt’s intelligence chief of “the Hamas movement’s approval of their proposal regarding the ceasefire”.

Hamas did not announce the details of the deal it has agreed to, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has yet to officially respond, leaving it uncertain whether the terms will enable fighting in Gaza to stop and a swap to take place.

“Israel has received the proposal and is current reviewing it,” an Israeli official said. “It is not the original proposal that was agreed.”

A diplomat briefed on the talks said the draft Hamas had accepted was broadly similar to the one put forward by mediators about two weeks ago.

The plan — brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the US — includes calls for an initial six-week pause in the war during which Hamas would release 33 hostages, including women, children, the elderly and wounded.

That would be followed by what mediators hope would be an extended ceasefire — described as “restoring a sustainable calm” — during which the remaining hostages would be freed.

Israeli officials say Hamas is holding 132 hostages, and believe 37 of them to be dead.

“Hamas has called Netanyahu’s bluff, and put the ball in his court,” the diplomat said.

Khalil al-Hayya, a Hamas leader in Gaza, told Al Jazeera that the proposal it had accepted included an assurance that in “its second phase, [there will be a] direct announcement of a permanent cessation of military and hostile operations”.

“The ball is now in the court of the Israeli occupation,” he said in televised remarks. “We made concessions so the door can be opened to stop this crazy war and for there to be a real prisoner exchange.”

There was no exact date attached to the proposal for an Israeli approval, he said.

Hamas announcement came hours after Israel ordered the evacuation of eastern Rafah, a border town in Gaza’s southern tip that has become the last refuge for more than 1mn Palestinians who have fled the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas.

Netanyahu’s office said over the weekend that the Israeli military would “enter Rafah and destroy the remaining Hamas battalions there — whether or not there will be a temporary pause for the release of our hostages”.

His far-right coalition ally, national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, said on X that Israel should reject the offer.

“Hamas’ tricks and games have only one answer: an immediate order to occupy Rafah, increasing military pressure, and continuing the complete pounding of Hamas, until its full defeat,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: “We are pleased that Hamas has agreed to the ceasefire after our calls. Now Israel should take the same step.”

“I call on all western actors to put pressure on the Israeli administration,” he added.

Egypt, Qatar and the US have been mediating between Israel and Hamas for a second round of hostage-for-prisoner swaps, following one last November that saw over a hundred captives in Gaza freed for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

The talks had been stalled for months as Hamas demanded that any agreement end with a permanent ceasefire and the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. Netanyahu, under pressure from far-right members of his ruling coalition, has repeatedly rejected Hamas demands.

Mediators were hopeful of a breakthrough a week ago after Israel appeared to soften its stance on some key conditions for a deal. But any optimism over a possible deal faded after Netanyahu said an offensive on Rafah would still go ahead, with or without a hostage deal, and Hamas’s continued to insist on a permanent ceasefire.

The families of Israeli hostages, who were protesting on a central Tel Aviv highway in support of a deal, told Israeli TV reporters that they were cautiously optimistic of a genuine breakthrough.

Palestinians in Rafah also celebrated, according to images on social media, hours after panic gripped the border town when the Israeli military on Monday morning ordered the evacuation of at least 100,000 residents, and signalled an imminent military operation.

Hamas’s decision comes after a flurry of diplomacy, during which CIA direct Bill Burns travelled to Cairo and then Qatar where he has been holding talks with Qatari prime minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani. Qatar hosts Hamas’s political office.

Burn was expected to travel to Israel this week as the US steps up the pressure for a hostage deal and to convince Israel not to move ahead with the offensive on Rafah.

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