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Israel-Hamas war: Group to consider ceasefire-hostage release proposal that Israeli sources say could avert Rafah invasion

Riyadh and Jerusalem

Hamas is considering a new framework proposed by Egypt that calls for the group to release up to 33 hostages kidnapped in Israel in exchange for a pause in hostilities in Gaza, an Israeli source close to the negotiations and a source told CNN foreign diplomacy.

The latest proposal, which Israel helped draft but did not fully accept, is divided into two phases, with the first providing for the release of 20 to 33 hostages over several weeks in exchange for a break and the release of prisoners. Palestinians. The second phase is what sources described as the “restoration of lasting calm”, during which the remaining hostages, captive Israeli soldiers and the bodies of the hostages would be exchanged for more Palestinian prisoners.

The diplomatic source close to the talks said the reference to lasting calm was “a way of accepting a permanent ceasefire without calling it that.”

After months of stalemate, an agreement by both sides would be a major step toward ending the war. But a failed deal could strengthen Israel’s presence in Gaza: If no deal is reached, Israel will likely launch a full-scale ground invasion in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians took refuge. Israel’s allies, including the United States, have warned against the operation due to the risk of large-scale civilian casualties.

Israel is awaiting a response from Hamas, which is expected to meet Egyptian and Qatari mediators in Cairo on Monday, the sources said. An Israeli working delegation made up of Mossad, Shin Bet and Israeli military officials is expected to visit Cairo on Tuesday, the Israeli source and another Israeli official said.

A response from Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas in Gaza, is expected within days – perhaps within the next 24 hours.

The duration of the first phase of the pause in hostilities would be linked to the number of hostages released, with the latest framework providing for a one-day break for each hostage, the Israeli source indicated, although this number is expected to evolve over the next few years. years. in-depth negotiations.

The release of 40 hostages for a six-week ceasefire had been the basis of negotiations for months, but Israel agreed to accept fewer. hostages in the first phase after Hamas dropped its offer to fewer than 20 people earlier this month.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that Hamas had been presented with an “extraordinarily generous” ceasefire proposal from Israel.

“Right now, the only thing standing in the way of the people of Gaza and a ceasefire is Hamas,” he told World Economic Forum (WEF) President Børge Brende. Riyadh, the Saudi capital. “They (Hamas) have to decide and they have to decide quickly,” he said. “I hope they make the right decision.”

Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken participates in the US-Arab meeting with representatives of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian Authority, at the Four Seasons hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on April 29.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, also speaking in Riyadh, said he hoped Israel and Hamas would accept the proposal.

“There is a proposal on the table, which both sides must examine and accept, but the objective is certainly a ceasefire, a permanent ceasefire and the management of humanitarian conditions,” Choukry said during a panel at the WEF in Riyadh on Monday.

He said he hoped that “the proposal has been taken into account” and that “we are awaiting a final decision”.

Israeli officials have expressed openness to negotiating the “restoration of lasting calm” as part of a comprehensive agreement that would effectively end the war.

An Israeli source close to the negotiations said Egypt had offered the parties to agree to a one-year ceasefire as part of a comprehensive deal that would see the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and the release of all remaining hostages and bodies of those who died.

CNN has contacted the Egyptian government for comment.

Hamas insisted that a permanent ceasefire and a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza should be part of the deal. Israel has so far maintained that its operations in Gaza will continue until Hamas is eradicated.

Israel also agreed to the free movement of Palestinians into northern Gaza, the sources said, a key Hamas demand that has hampered negotiations in the past.

Looming over the negotiations is the increasingly likely prospect of an Israeli military offensive in Rafah, which Israeli officials have signaled for months but are now holding back, saying they want to provide space for negotiations.

But Israeli sources called the latest Egyptian efforts to negotiate a deal a last chance to avert the offensive.

“The only chance to stop Rafah is an agreement,” said the Israeli source close to the negotiations.

The United States and other allies of Israel have warned that such an operation would not gain their support unless adequate measures were taken to ensure the safety of civilians.

“Preparations for entry into Rafah continue. Whatever the agreement, if there is one, Israel will not abandon the objectives of the war,” the Israeli official said.

Blinken reiterated in Riyadh that the United States would not support a major military operation in Rafah “absent a plan that ensures civilians will not be harmed.”

“We have not yet seen a plan to effectively protect civilians,” he said.

White House National Security Council communications adviser John Kirby said Sunday that Israel has told its U.S. counterparts that it will not launch an invasion of Rafah until the Biden administration can share his concerns.

“I think we need to have a better understanding from the Israelis about what they want to do, in fact we have had several discussions with them, we intend to do more,” he said. declared on ABC. “They assured us that they would not go to Rafah until we had the opportunity to really share our views and concerns with them.”

In a phone call Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Joe Biden discussed the need for increased humanitarian aid and “reiterated his clear position” on a possible Israeli invasion of Rafah, according to a report of the conversation by the White House.

The death toll from Israeli bombings in Gaza continued to rise over the weekend.

Twenty people, including at least one infant and a toddler, died following an Israeli airstrike on Rafah, Gaza, on Monday night, according to hospital officials.

And in Gaza City, seven Palestinians were killed and dozens injured in two separate Israeli airstrikes overnight, Gaza Civil Defense spokesman Mahmmoud Basal told CNN. An Israeli airstrike hit a two-story house belonging to the Tartouri family in the port area west of Gaza City, killing 5 Palestinians and injuring several others, Basal said.

In another incident, two people were killed and several others injured when an Israeli airstrike targeted a house belonging to the Hijazi family in the Sabra neighborhood in central Gaza City, according to Basal.

News Source :
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