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Momentum Grows for Gaza Ceasefire and Hostage Release Efforts

Photo : AP

Efforts to secure a ceasefire and facilitate the release of hostages in Gaza gained significant momentum on Friday after Hamas proposed revised terms for an agreement. Israeli officials confirmed that negotiations would continue into the following week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the head of Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, had returned from an initial meeting with mediators in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Netanyahu's office acknowledged that there were still gaps between the negotiating sides but remained hopeful about progress.

An anonymous source within Israel's negotiating team suggested there was a real chance of reaching an agreement, a marked shift from previous stances where Israel found Hamas' conditions unacceptable.

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A Palestinian official close to the international peace efforts indicated that Hamas' latest proposal could lead to a framework agreement if accepted by Israel. Notably, Hamas has dropped its precondition for an immediate permanent ceasefire before signing any agreement. Instead, they are open to negotiating a permanent ceasefire over a six-week period, during which time both sides would refrain from returning to hostilities.

However, Hamas has made it clear that they reject the presence of foreign forces in Gaza, opposing any international contingent meant to maintain peace in the enclave. The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), an ally of Hamas, echoed this sentiment, warning that they would consider any international forces in Gaza as occupiers.

The conflict has resulted in severe casualties and displacement. Gaza health authorities report over 38,000 Palestinian deaths since the offensive began in response to a Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7, which left 1,200 people dead and more than 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. The war has displaced hundreds of thousands of Gazans, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis and escalating regional tensions, including exchanges of fire across Israel's northern border with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In related developments, Hamas communicated to Hezbollah their agreement to a Gaza ceasefire proposal, which was welcomed by Hezbollah's leadership. A Hezbollah official indicated that if a Gaza agreement were reached, a ceasefire in Lebanon would commence simultaneously.

In the diplomatic arena, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan expressed optimism, hoping for a "final ceasefire" within days and urging Western nations to pressure Israel into accepting the terms on offer.

However, the political landscape within Israel remains complex. Some far-right members of Netanyahu's governing coalition have signaled they might leave the government if the war ends before Hamas is fully dismantled, potentially jeopardizing Netanyahu's premiership. During a cabinet meeting, far-right coalition partner Itamar Ben Gvir criticized security and defense officials for deciding to resume Gaza talks without consulting him.

Hamas' new proposal responds to a plan revealed in late May by U.S. President Joe Biden, which involves releasing about 120 hostages still held in Gaza and establishing a ceasefire. The plan envisions a phased approach: initial hostage releases, Israeli military withdrawals, and the release of Palestinian prisoners, followed by Gaza's reconstruction.

In recent fighting, Israeli airstrikes killed 15 Palestinians in northern and southern Gaza, including two local journalists in Gaza City, according to medics. The Israeli military reported a raid in Jenin, West Bank, resulting in the deaths of seven Palestinians as they targeted militants barricaded in a building.

Amid these developments, Gazans remain cautiously hopeful. Ibtisam Al-Athamna, a resident of Khan Younis, expressed the constant fear of death that pervades daily life, reflecting the community's desperate need for aid and a lasting resolution to the conflict.

As the international community watches closely, the next steps in the negotiations will be critical in determining whether a sustainable peace can be achieved in the region.

July 6, 2024 10:57 a.m. 428

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