Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas appear to be moving closer to a ceasefire agreement that would halt over two weeks of deadly fighting in Gaza, according to multiple reports over the past few days. At the same time, indirect talks are intensifying to secure a prisoner swap that would see Israel release Palestinian prisoners in exchange for two Israeli captives held by Hamas and the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014.
Ceasefire Proposal Receives Initial Hamas Approval
On Monday, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said the group had received a ceasefire proposal and was studying it. By Tuesday, Haniyeh indicated that Hamas had given initial positive confirmation of the truce offer.
Sources told news outlets that the current ceasefire framework under discussion consists of three main stages:
- A halt to Israeli strikes on Gaza and Hamas rocket fire into Israel
- Discussions on stabilizing Gaza’s infrastructure and easing restrictions on goods entering the territory
- Negotiations for a longer-term truce
Hamas is said to be demanding that any ceasefire include Israeli withdrawal of forces from the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem and the lifting of the blockade on Gaza. However, the group is unlikely to outright reject a truce offer.
On Wednesday, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said Hamas had given initial approval on a proposal to return two Israeli civilians and the remains of two soldiers held in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. But he cautioned that no final deal had been reached yet.
Intensified Talks on Prisoner Swap
In parallel with the ceasefire negotiations, talks are accelerating on a prisoner exchange agreement. Indirect negotiations have been taking place in Cairo, mediated by Egypt, and also in Paris earlier this week with the involvement of CIA Director William Burns.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Hamas is demanding Israel release 150 Palestinian prisoners for each of the two female Israeli soldiers being held captive. Israeli officials have described such demands as “crazy.”
The two Israeli civilians believed held by Hamas are Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed. Hamas is also suspected to be holding the remains of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed during the 2014 Gaza war.
Securing the release of civilians held in Gaza and retrieval of the bodies of fallen Israeli soldiers has been a priority for Israel. However, Israeli officials have cautioned there are still significant gaps between the two sides that need to be bridged.
Escalating Violence Despite Talks
Even as ceasefire negotiations slowly progress, both sides continue to trade blows. On Monday, an Israeli raid on a hospital compound in the West Bank city of Jenin killed at least 10 Palestinians and wounded dozens more. Hamas responded by firing rockets from Gaza into Israel.
The violence marks a departure from relative restraint over the past week as talks advanced. Some analysts believe Hamas may be signaling its displeasure with the pace of negotiations by allowing rocket attacks to resume. At the same time, critics argue the hospital assault underscores that Israel remains focused on a military solution rather than diplomacy.
On Thursday, U.S. forces in eastern Syria came under rocket attack in the first apparent retaliation over Israeli strikes in Syria last week targeting Iranian proxies. While no group has yet claimed responsibility, the incident highlights risks of further regional escalation.
What Comes Next?
With Hamas indicating openness to a truce, attention shifts to an Israeli security cabinet meeting expected on Friday to consider the proposal. Israeli officials have stated any long-term arrangement must include measures to prevent Hamas from rearming.
If the security cabinet greenlights continued talks, negotiations will tackle more complex issues like reconstructing Gaza, prisoner releases, and potentially easing restrictions on the territory.
However, roadblocks remain. Disagreements over prisoners as well as Israeli demands to demilitarize Gaza and secure the return of captives could still derail efforts. Ongoing violence and pressure from Israeli hardliners also threaten to undercut progress.
Most experts believe the ambitious goal of reaching a final cessation of hostilities agreement remains distant. Yet with growing international backing and apparent willingness from Hamas to de-escalate, the outlines of an interim deal may be taking shape.
|Hamas receives truce offer, begins studying proposal
|Hamas reportedly gives initial positive response to ceasefire plan
|Qatar’s FM says Hamas approved hostage swap proposal; no final deal yet
|Israeli security cabinet to consider truce offer
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