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Mediation sparks progress on new hostage-ceasefire deal

The US has worked alongside the main mediators of the deal, Egypt and Qatar, to bring about a new proposal that includes a sustained ceasefire and the release of potentially thousands of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 33 Israeli hostages held captive in Gaza by Hamas.
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Press conference Hersch Polin

Press conference with Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg-Polin, whose son Hersh is being held hostage in Gaza (Image: Tomer Appelbaum)

Published: 29 April 2024

Last updated: 30 April 2024

Israel appears to be inching closer to securing the release of the hostages in Gaza, almost seven months after Hamas’s initial brutal attack.

At the World Economic Forum in Riyadh, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said an extraordinary effort had been made to arrive at a deal. The US has worked alongside main mediators, Egypt and Qatar, to ensure that the hostages are returned.

“Hamas has before it a proposal that is extraordinarily – extraordinarily – generous on the part of Israel. And in this moment, the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire is Hamas. They have to decide, and they have to decide quickly.

“I’m hopeful that they will make the right decision and we can have a fundamental change in the dynamic,” Blinken said.

The current proposal put to Hamas includes a sustained 40-day ceasefire and the release of potentially thousands of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of the Israeli hostages.

Israel has reduced the number of hostages it will accept in the first phase of a ceasefire in Gaza from 40 to 33, the New York Times reported, citing three Israeli officials. According to a report, the change was prompted partly by the fact that Israel now believes that some of the 40 have died while in Hamas captivity.

Hamas was reported to have no "major issues" with the most recent truce offer, but an Israeli official warned it is too early for optimism about reaching an agreement.

"We are waiting for a decision from Hamas, which has not yet been made, and it is not clear whether it will accept the proposal or put up obstacles as on previous occasions," the official told Haaretz. The main sticking point is still Hamas’s demand for a complete ceasefire, which Israel opposes.

According to Axios’s Barak Ravid, the potential deal would also involve talks over the “restoration of sustainable calm” in Gaza, which could effectively see an end to the war. But “sustainable calm” suggests a solution somewhat short of the “total victory” repeatedly touted by Netanyahu, who has vowed to dismantle Hamas.

Proof of life videos stir action

The peace talks follow the release of several ‘proof of life’ videos of hostages held captive by Hamas, mounting political pressure on Netanyahu to act.

In the past week, three propaganda videos of Israeli hostages were circulated, galvanising thousands of protesters who rallied in Israeli cities nationwide on Saturday night, calling for a hostage deal and protesting against the current government.

Last Wednesday, Hamas posted a relatively rare video in 23-year-old Hersh Goldberg-Polin, who was abducted from the Nova rave and is seen without his lower left arm. In the short clip, he implores Netanyahu to agree to release the captives in a deal.

Further footage was released showing dual Israeli-American citizen Keith Samuel Siegel, who was taken from his home in Kfar Aza, and Omri Miran, who was taken from his home in Nahal Oz.

Miran's father told a crowd of thousands gathered in Tel Aviv's Hostages Square that he worried about his son’s current condition. To Netanyahu and the war cabinet, he said: “Approve any deal – any deal – that’s feasible. I implore you, one request: Make the decision now”.

Protesters in Tel Aviv<strong> </strong>(Image: Itai Ron).
Protesters in Tel Aviv (Image: Itai Ron).

The Rafah question

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

War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz, whose National Unity party joined the government days after the October 7 attack, said that although an IDF operation in Rafah "is important in the long struggle against Hamas, the return of our hostages – who were abandoned by the government on October 7 – is urgent and of far greater importance”.

“If a responsible outline is reached for the return of the hostages with the backing of the entire security establishment – which does not involve ending the war – and the ministers who led the government on October 7 prevent it, the government will have no right to continue to exist and lead the campaign,” Gantz said in a statement.

Gantz’s declaration came after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich warned the government would have “no right to exist” unless Israel invades Rafah. In a video posted to social media, Smotrich also rejected an Egyptian-mediated hostages-for-ceasefire proposal as a “humiliating surrender to the Nazis on the backs of hundreds of IDF soldiers” who died there.

Netanyahu appears to prefer to press ahead with the conquest of Rafah, or at least to make noise to that effect, partly in the hope that military pressure will accelerate the hostage deal.

Recent weeks have indeed seen a more serious discussion take place between the political decision makers and the military about a possible operation in Rafah.

In the face of global concern for the more than one million Palestinians sheltering in the southern city, the White House told Netanyahu that the US would oppose the offensive unless adequate provisions were made to move and care for the Palestinians.

“We’ve said clearly and for some time now on Rafah that in the absence of a plan to ensure that civilians will not be harmed, we can’t support a major military operation in Rafah. And we have not yet seen a plan that gives us confidence that civilians can be effectively protected,” Blinken said.

Any Israeli offensive move in Rafah will have to take Egypt into account and will not be able to ignore that the Egypt-Gaza border is still breached – at the Rafah Crossing and via the tunnels – with the authorities in Sinai turning a blind eye to arms smuggling into Gaza and to the movement of people mainly individuals active in Hamas, some of whom enter Egypt for medical treatment.

An Israeli delegation is expected to travel to Egypt today for continued negotiations.


White House: New progress in the talks, the onus on Hamas (Jerusalem Post)

Hamas to consider ceasefire-hostage release proposal that Israeli sources say could avert Rafah invasion (CNN)

Israeli delegation to depart for Cairo amid progress on hostage release, cease-fire deal (Haaretz)

Israel reportedly lowers demand of 40 hostages freed by Hamas to 33 (Haaretz)

Galvanized by signs of life, thousands rally for hostage deal and against government (Times of Israel)

Hamas says no 'major' issues, as Gaza truce effort builds (News.com)

Gantz, far-right ministers issue dueling ultimatums to PM over hostage deal, Rafah op (Times of Israel)

Biden and Netanyahu speak as pressure grows on Israel over Rafah and ceasefire talks (The Guardian)

Is there about to be a breakthrough in the Gaza ceasefire talks? (The Guardian)

'Every time we get close to a deal, there's sabotage, from both sides': top Qatari official tells Haaretz both Israel and Hamas are to blame (Haaretz)

Fearing the end of his coalition, Netanyahu edges toward Rafah operation over hostage deal By Amos Harel (Haaretz)


Former hostage reveals Hamas terrorist demanded marriage, she stay in Gaza (Jerusalem Post)
Noga Weiss: "I was 50 days, 24/7, with the thought that they would get tired of me and just shoot me or that they wouldn’t need me in the end, or that they would shoot us while we slept."


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