Proposal to swap Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners sent to Hamas after Paris talks

World

A proposal to swap Israeli hostages held in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners has been sent to Hamas, according to reports.

It follows several days of multinational talks in Paris involving representatives from Israel, the United States, Egypt, and Qatar which have tried to map out the basic contours of a deal for a temporary ceasefire.

The proposal includes a 40-day pause in all military operations and states that all Israeli women, children under 19, elderly over 50 and sick hostages should be released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, a senior source has told the Reuters news agency.

War latest: Biden says Israel has agreed to halt military activity for a month

Image:
Israeli army vehicles return from southern Gaza. Pic: Reuters

The draft states Hamas would free 40 Israeli hostages, while Israel would release around 400 Palestinian prisoners and will not rearrest them.

Under the proposal, 500 aid trucks would be allowed into Gaza every day and thousands of tents and caravans sent there, while hospitals and bakeries could be repaired.

It follows comments by US President Joe Biden, who said on Monday he hoped a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas could be secured “by the end of the weekend”.

A Hamas official told Sky News they have yet to receive a formal proposal after the most recent talks in Paris regarding a comprehensive ceasefire.

The official added that Hamas has told mediators it will not accept Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to “manipulate the negotiations to gain more time to implement his plans, especially a war of starvation against the Palestinian people, and that the negotiation process will not have unlimited time”.

Mr Biden made his remarks during an unannounced visit to the Van Leeuwen ice cream parlour, next door to 30 Rock in New York.

Flanked by late night TV show host Seth Meyers, Mr Biden was asked by reporters when he thought a ceasefire in Gaza could start.

In a surprise turn, he said “my national security adviser [Jake Sullivan] tells me that we’re close, we’re close, we’re not done yet”.

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‘What did we do to deserve this?’

Appearing on Late Night With Seth Meyers, Mr Biden said “Ramadan is coming up, and there’s been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan, as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out.”

The Muslim holy month, which falls on different dates every year, is set to start on the evening of 10 March and end on the evening of 9 April.

Israel risked losing international support because of the high death toll among Palestinians, Mr Biden warned.

It had committed to making it possible for Palestinians to evacuate Rafah in southern Gaza before intensifying its campaign there to destroy Hamas, he added.

Ceasefire talks face hurdles

President Biden’s suggestion a deal could be in place by next Monday reflects a push to get something agreed before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan around 10 March, but is a far more optimistic assessment than I’m seeing in Israel.

Many hurdles remain – Hamas is yet to deliver its verdict on the proposal and might yet object to it.

It’s my understanding from sources that reaching senior Hamas leadership in Gaza itself has become increasingly difficult as Israel’s military operation has pushed them deeper underground and often out of contact.

Assuming a deal goes ahead, it is expected to be just the first stage.

With an estimated 132 hostages still in Gaza, many would still remain, thereby requiring further negotiations to secure their release and an extension to any ceasefire.

And the status of Israeli forces in Gaza during a ceasefire period remains unclear: Hamas had previously demanded a full withdrawal, something the Israeli war cabinet refused to agree on.

Mr Netanyahu, and his military chiefs, have made clear that a ground operation in Rafah must happen to complete the elimination of Hamas, at least militarily.

Although there will no doubt be intense diplomatic efforts during any truce to secure a long-term or even permanent ceasefire, it remains highly unlikely that a truce in the coming weeks, if it happens, would mark an end to the fighting.

Mr Biden said there was an agreement in principle for a ceasefire between the two sides while hostages were released and said he hoped to have a ceasefire in the conflict by the following Monday.

“There are too many innocent people that are being killed. And Israel has slowed down the attacks in Rafah,” Mr Biden said.

He added a temporary ceasefire would open a process for Palestinians to have their own state, something Mr Netanyahu has rejected.

The talks in the French capital, the most serious effort in weeks to halt the fighting, have been hosted by Qatar, with mediators meeting delegations from both sides separately.

The aim was to secure a six-week pause in fighting.

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Israel and Hamas have been at war in Gaza since gunmen from the Palestinian militant group that runs the enclave attacked southern Israel on 7 October, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages.

Israel responded with a military campaign in which almost 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to medical officials in Gaza.

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