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Israel Seizes Rafah Crossing as Cease-Fire Talks Face Uncertainty: Live Updates

Israeli officials said Tuesday that major differences remained with Hamas over the latest ceasefire proposal in Gaza, as delegations from both sides arrived in Cairo to resume talks.

Hamas said Monday it had accepted the terms of a ceasefire proposed by Arab mediators, and U.S. officials said they had made minor changes to the wording of a proposal that Israel and the United States Unis had recently presented to the group.

But Israeli officials disputed that characterization, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying Tuesday that his war cabinet unanimously believed that the proposal accepted by Hamas was “far removed from Israel’s basic demands.”

The text of the revised proposal was circulating in Israeli media on Tuesday and was confirmed as authentic by a senior Hamas official. A person briefed on the negotiations also described the differences between the two sides’ positions. Here are the main ones:

“Sustainable calm”

The biggest sticking point concerns a key phrase that appears in the proposals endorsed by Israel and Hamas: a path to “lasting calm.”

In the proposal that Israel approved and Egypt conveyed to Hamas leaders on April 26, both sides would seek to achieve “sustainable calm” in Gaza after an initial six-week pause in fighting. This proposal left these two words open to interpretation.

Israeli artillery fired Tuesday near the border with Gaza, in southern Israel.Credit…Atef Safadi/EPA, via Shutterstock

But in the proposal approved by Hamas, this term is clearly defined as a permanent cessation of hostilities and a complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip.

Israel has always opposed any agreement explicitly calling for a permanent ceasefire or an end to the war, and has stated that it will not accept any such agreements until it believes that his military offensive had achieved its objectives. Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Hamas’ timetable would commit Israel to ending the war while Hamas still holds hostages, leaving Israel without any leverage.

Israel might have been willing to discuss ending the war later in the process, but it did not commit to doing so from the start, experts say.

“If you sign the agreement, you agree to respect all of this,” Mr. Yaari said.

Hostage releases

The first phase of a three-phase deal would be a six-week pause in fighting, during which Israel would exchange hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Israeli jails for 33 of the most vulnerable hostages held in Gaza. This includes all women, including female soldiers, as well as elderly men and the sick and wounded. Israel reduced its initial request for around 40 hostages in this category because it estimated that only 33 remained alive, out of a total of 132 hostages still held in Gaza.

Rally in Jerusalem to demand the release of hostages held in Gaza in April.Credit…Sergei Ponomarev for the New York Times

But Hamas informed negotiators on Monday that not all of the 33 people who would be released in the first phase were still alive and that the remains of those who died would be among those released – a revelation that surprised the Israelis.

Additionally, Hamas suggested a framework that would extend the release of hostages by releasing three on the third day after the break began, then three more every seven days thereafter. An earlier proposal called for the release of three hostages every three days.

According to analysts, extending the releases would mean that negotiations on the second phase of the deal – achieving “lasting calm” – would take place while Hamas held more bargaining chips. And Israelis also fear that engaging in this situation will increase the possibility that more of the sickest hostages will die before being released.

Israeli veto on prisoners

The proposal accepted by Israel in April allowed it to veto the release of certain Palestinian prisoners serving life sentences – those who should be exchanged for Israeli soldiers being held hostage – from a list of 200 names. The proposal approved by Hamas removed any Israeli right of refusal.

The Israeli government has largely presented the start of its ground operations in Rafah as a way to pressure the group to soften its negotiating position. Hamas called the Israeli operation a “dangerous escalation” intended to “disrupt mediation efforts for a ceasefire and the release of prisoners.”

Yet as both sides sent delegations to Cairo on Tuesday for ceasefire negotiations, White House spokesman John F. Kirby said: “There should be no reason to that they cannot overcome the remaining differences.”

Julian E. Barnes, Adam Rasgon, Gabby Sobelman And Myra Noveck reports contributed.

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