Hopes of Gaza ceasefire rise further as Hamas reportedly backs new proposal

Hopes for a ceasefire in Gaza have risen further after reports that Hamas has given its initial approval of a new US-backed proposal for a phased deal.

Egyptian officials and representatives of the militant Islamist organisation confirmed Hamas had dropped a key demand that Israel commits to a definitive end to the war before any pause in hostilities, Reuters and the Associated Press reported.

Efforts to secure a ceasefire and hostage release in Gaza have intensified over recent days, with active shuttle diplomacy among Washington, Israel and Qatar, which is leading mediation efforts from Doha, where the exiled Hamas leadership is based.

Observers said any progress was welcome, but pointed out that multiple rounds of negotiations over more than seven months had so far failed to bring success.

With all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah looming, and casualties in Gaza still mounting, pressure to end the war is high.

A Hezbollah official said last week the group would cease fire as soon as any Gaza deal took effect, echoing previous statements. On Thursday the Iran-backed organisation fired 200 rockets into Israel in retaliation for a strike that killed one of its top commanders.

“If there is a Gaza agreement, then from zero hour there will be a ceasefire in Lebanon,” the Hezbollah official said.

The White House has described the latest Hamas ceasefire proposal as a “breakthrough”. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, confirmed on Friday that the director of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, had been sent to make an urgent visit to Qatar, but his office said “gaps between the parties” remained.

The proposed deal would involve a first phase including the release by Hamas of elderly, sick and female hostages during a six-week truce, an Israeli withdrawal from cities in Gaza, and the release of Palestinian detainees held by Israel.

Further phases could include the release of the remaining male hostages, both civilians and soldiers, in return for additional Palestinian prisoners and detainees. Eventually, any remaining hostages would be returned, including bodies of dead captives, and a start made on the immensely expensive and complex task of reconstructing Gaza.

A key obstacle to a deal until this week had been widely differing views on how the agreement would move from its first phase to its second.

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Hamas wants strong guarantees over the path to a permanent ceasefire, but Netanyahu had publicly cast doubt on whether that would happen, vowing to complete the destruction of the group, which had run Gaza for nearly two decades before it launched its surprise attack on southern Israel on 7 October.

A Hamas representative told the Associated Press the group’s approval came after it received “verbal commitments and guarantees” from the mediators that the war would not be resumed and that negotiations would continue until a permanent ceasefire was reached. “Now we want these guarantees on paper,” he said.

Israel launched the war in Gaza after the attack by Hamas in October, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted about 250.

Since then, the Israeli air and ground offensive has killed more than 38,000 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s health ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report

The Guardian

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