Israel and Hamas cautious over truce

Hamas is weighing a proposal for a ceasefire that would suspend fighting for 40 days, see some hostages and Palestinian detainees released and see a surge in humanitarian aid for Gaza

Israel, Hamas and Qatari mediators expressed caution on Tuesday about progress towards a truce in Gaza, after US president Joe Biden said he believed a ceasefire could be reached in under a week to halt the war before the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Hamas is weighing a proposal, agreed by Israel at talks with mediators in Paris last week, for a ceasefire that would suspend fighting for 40 days, which would be the first extended truce of the five-month-old war. Both sides have delegations in Qatar this week hammering out details.

According to a source close to the talks, the Paris proposal would see militants free some but not all of the hostages they are holding in return for the release of hundreds of Palestinian detainees, a surge in humanitarian aid for Gaza and Israeli troops pulling out of populated areas in the enclave.

But it appears to stop short of satisfying Hamas’ main demand for any agreement to include a clear path towards a permanent end to the war and Israeli withdrawal, or resolving the fate of fighting-age Israeli men among the hostages.


In remarks broadcast on a late-night talkshow, Mr Biden said Israel had already agreed to halt fighting in Gaza for Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, which is expected to begin on March 10th.

“Ramadan is coming up, and there’s been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan, as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out,” Mr Biden said on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers.

Earlier on Monday Mr Biden said he hoped a ceasefire agreement would be nailed down by March 4th. “My national security adviser tells me that they’re close. They’re close. They’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.”

In a statement his office billed as a response to Mr Biden, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he had pushed back against “pressure designed to end the war prematurely” – and secured Israel’s popularity among Americans as a result. “We have had considerable success,” he said. “This will help us continue the campaign until total victory.”

Earlier, Israeli government spokesperson Tal Heinrich said any deal would still require Hamas to drop “outlandish demands, in another orbit, another planet”. She added: “We are willing. But the question remains whether Hamas are willing.”

Qatar, which has acted as the main mediator, said a breakthrough had yet to be reached. “We don’t have a final agreement on any of the issues that are hampering reaching an agreement,” said Majed Al Ansari, spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign ministry. “We remain hopeful that we can get to some kind of agreement.”

Two senior Hamas officials told Reuters that Mr Biden’s remarks seemed premature. There are “still big gaps to be bridged”, one of them said. “The primary and main issues of the ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces are not clearly stated, which delays reaching an agreement.”

Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages on October 7th, according to Israeli tallies, triggering Israel’s ground assault on Gaza. Health authorities in the enclave say nearly 30,000 people have been confirmed killed.

Hamas has long said it will release all of its hostages only as part of a deal that ends the war for good. Israel has said it will consider only temporary pauses, and will not end the war until it eradicates the Islamist militant group.

According to the senior source close to the talks, the draft proposal on the table is for a 40-day truce during which Hamas would free about 40 hostages – including women, those under 19 or over 50 years old, and the sick – in return for around 400 Palestinian detainees, at a 10-for-one ratio.

Israel would reposition its troops outside settled areas. Gaza residents, apart from men of fighting age, would be permitted to return home to areas previously evacuated, and aid would be increased, including urgent housing supplies.

In Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are now sheltering on the southern edge of the territory, Rehab Redwan despaired at the prospect of a temporary truce leading only to a re-eruption of fighting. The war’s only ceasefire so far collapsed in November after just a week.

“We hope it will be a permanent ceasefire. We don’t want to go back to war because war after the first truce destroyed us and destroyed our houses,” said Ms Redwan, who fled her home in Khan Younis and is now living in a roadside tent.

There could be alarm in Israel too over a deal that fails to bring home all hostages. Male Israelis of fighting age are a majority of those now held since Hamas released more than 100 women, children and foreigners during the brief November truce.

Negotiators must insist on the release of everyone, said Shelly Shem Tov, whose 21-year-old son Omer was captured at a music festival stormed by the gunmen on October 7th.

“This is a situation which is inhuman. I keep saying that it’s a Schindler’s List of 2024,” she told Israel’s Channel 13, comparing the negotiations to a film about a factory owner who drew up a list of Jews to save from the Holocaust. “Who gets on the list? It really is counting them one by one, to check how many women there are, and who knows how many wounded there are – and what are the chances of my son getting in?” – Reuters