Gaza ceasefire hopes rise as Israel says it will resume stalled negotiations

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Efforts to secure a ceasefire and hostage release in Gaza were gathering momentum on Friday after Hamas made a revised proposal on the terms of a deal and Israel said it would resume stalled negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US President Joe Biden on Thursday he would send a delegation to resume negotiations, and an Israeli official said his country’s team would be led by the head of the Mossad intelligence agency.

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A source in Israel’s negotiating team, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was a real chance of achieving agreement after Hamas made its revised proposal on the terms of a deal, received by Israel on Wednesday.

“The proposal put forward by Hamas includes a very significant breakthrough,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity and giving no details.

The Israeli response to the Hamas proposal, submitted via mediators, was in marked contrast to past instances during the nearly nine-month-old war in Gaza, when Israel said conditions attached by the militant group were not acceptable.

A Palestinian official close to the internationally mediated peace efforts told Reuters the new Hamas proposal could lead to a framework agreement if it is embraced by Israel.

He said Hamas was no longer demanding as a pre-condition an Israeli commitment to permanently cease fire before the signing of an agreement, and would allow negotiations to achieve that throughout a first six-week phase.

“Should the sides need more time to seal an agreement on a permanent ceasefire, the two sides should agree there would be no return to the fighting until they do that,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

Hamas has previously said any deal must end the war and bring a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and sought the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel in exchange for Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

Israel has previously said it will accept only temporary pauses in the fighting until Hamas, which governs the small, densely populated Gaza Strip, is eradicated.

Egyptian sources acknowledged there had been a shift but suggested that the core issue of commitment to a permanent ceasefire was still outstanding.

Gaza health authorities say more than 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli offensive launched in response to a Hamas-led attack on Israel last Oct. 7 in which Israel said 1,200 people were killed and over 250 taken hostage.

The war has caused a humanitarian crisis across Gaza and increased tension across the region, triggering frequent exchanges of fire across Israel’s northern border with the Iran-backed Hezbollah group in Lebanon.

Hezbollah said on Friday its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and a top Hamas official, Khalil al-Hayya, had met to discuss the latest developments in Gaza. It provided no details of the outcome.

Biden welcomes Netanyahu’s decision

The White House said Biden and Netanyahu had on Thursday discussed the response received from Hamas on the possible terms of a deal, and that Biden had welcomed Netanyahu’s decision on resuming the stalled talks “in an effort to close out the deal.”

The source in the Israeli negotiating team said: “There’s a deal with a real chance of implementation.”

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However the source cautioned there was a risk a deal could be scuppered by “political considerations.”

Some far-right partners in Netanyahu’s governing coalition have indicated they may quit the government if the war ends before Hamas is destroyed. Their departure would probably end Netanyahu’s premiership.

Israel’s Channel 7 News reported that, during a cabinet meeting on Thursday evening, far-right coalition partner Itamar Ben Gvir had accused top security and defense officials of deciding to resume the talks without consulting him.

Hamas’ response was to a proposal made public at the end of May by Biden that would include the release of about 120 hostages still held in Gaza and a ceasefire.

The plan entails the gradual release of the hostages and the pullback of Israeli forces over an initial two phases, and the freeing of Palestinian prisoners. A third phase involves Gaza’s reconstruction and the return of the remains of dead hostages.

Previous efforts to end the Gaza conflict were mediated by Egypt and Qatar, with talks held in both locations.

In the latest fighting in Gaza, residents said Israeli tanks had pushed shortly before dawn into the Al-Nasser neighborhood in the northern part of Rafah, near the border with Egypt.

Israel said its operations in Rafah were aimed at dismantling the last battalions of Hamas’ armed wing.

An Israeli air strike on a house killed five Palestinians, including three children, in Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, Gaza medics said.

Five Palestinians were also killed in an Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin on Friday, the Palestinian health ministry said.

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