Home International Israel signals progress in Gaza truce talks, Palestinians see little movement

Israel signals progress in Gaza truce talks, Palestinians see little movement

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Israeli leaders planned to convene on the weekend to hear of possible progress in mediated negotiations on a new Gaza truce to recover hostages held by Hamas, but Palestinians saw little change in polarised positions almost five months into the war.

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip February 24, 2024. Picture: Reuters, Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Dan Williams and Nidal Al-Mughrabi

JERUSALEM/CAIRO – Israeli leaders planned to convene on Saturday to hear of possible progress in mediated negotiations on a new Gaza truce to recover hostages held by Hamas, but Palestinians saw little change in polarised positions almost five months into the war.

Israeli delegates met on Friday in Paris with Qatari, Egyptian and US mediators who helped put together the lone ceasefire so far, in November, under which scores of Hamas’ captives went free in return for a Palestinian prisoner release.

Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said the delegates, who flew back early on Saturday, would brief the war cabinet in an evening meeting after the Jewish Sabbath ends.

Scheduling the briefing “shows that they feel they did not come back empty-handed,” he told Israel’s Channel 12 TV. “From the tone of what I have been hearing in recent hours, it will be possible to make progress.”

Hanegbi did not give further details, but appeared to nod when asked if progress could be made in time for the Muslim fast month of Ramadan, which begins on or around March 10. In past wars, Ramadan was seen as propitious for ceasefire efforts.

There was no immediate comment from Qatari, Egyptian or US officials.

The hostage crisis has riveted Israelis reeling from the surprise October 7 cross-border Hamas rampage in which 1,200 people were killed and 253 taken hostage, according to Israel’s tally.

On Saturday, thousands of people held a Tel Aviv vigil for the hostages, a short distance from an anti-government protest where police reported five arrests for disorderly conduct.

Hamas has previously conditioned freeing the 130 hostages it still holds on Israel freeing thousands of jailed Palestinian militants and calling off the Gaza offensive, which medical officials in the enclave say has killed around 30,000 people.

ENDGAME

Israel has publicly balked at such a large-scale prisoner release and says any halt to fighting would be temporary as it intends to dismantle Hamas, an Islamist faction sworn to its destruction, by broadening the war to holdout areas of Gaza.

A Palestinian official briefed on the talks said that the Israelis, in Paris, had been “vague” about their Gaza endgame.

“While Israel is focusing on an attempt to turn any agreement into a prisoner-swap deal, Hamas insists that any agreement must based on an a commitment by the Israeli occupation to end the war and pull its forces from the Gaza Strip,” the official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

“This is the priority as far as Hamas is concerned.”

Another Palestinian official indicated that a hostage release as part of an exchange was not imminent, saying there had been “no discussion over the prisoners, neither in terms of categories or numbers”.

A source briefed on the talks, and who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the Paris talks had produced a proposed truce “outline” that could eventually lead to a truce.

Hanegbi told Channel 12 that among Israel’s guiding principles for any truce deal is a stipulation that all hostages are released, beginning with the freeing of women and children and is “under no condition be interpreted as an end to the war”.

The Israeli military on Saturday published an infantry major’s death in combat, bringing its total losses in Gaza fighting to 239. Israel says it has killed some 12,000 Hamas gunmen, effectively halving the faction’s Gaza garrisons.

Hamas says those figures as overblown.

“We are in the midst of negotiations for the release of the hostages. I can’t say what it will lead to. There are those who are addressing it. We are dealing with combat,” Israeli military chief Lieutenant-General Herzi Halevi told troops in a briefing.

– REUTERS

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