Reports Conflict on Whether Hamas Will Accept Hostage Deal

There are conflicting reports out of the Middle East about whether Hamas has agreed to a mediation proposal from Egypt, with Israeli and Palestinian news sources saying Hamas is expected to announce within hours it’s in agreement with the plans.

But an Israeli military official informed The Associated Press the prospects aren’t good for a complete ending to the war as Israel remains committed to invading Rafah and won’t agree to end the war as part of a deal with Hamas under any circumstances.

Walla, an Israeli news site, reported Saturday and quoted Palestinian media source Al Quds as saying Hamas will announce it has agreed to the mediation proposal. 

Reportedly, Israel, Egypt, Qatar, and Hamas have continued to discuss the number of prisoners that would be released in the deal, and Hamas said it had received guarantees from the U.S. for the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from the Gaza Strip and a permanent ending of the war for the third phase of the deal.

Saturday, a delegation of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas was in Cairo as Egyptian state media reported “noticeable progress” in ongoing cease-fire discussions with Israel while an Israeli official played down the prospects for a complete end to the war.

Pressure to reach a deal has been mounting — the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is escalating drastically while Israel insists it will launch a Rafah offensive in the territory’s southernmost city.

Stakes remain high to find a halt to the almost seven-months-long war. Over 1 million Palestinians are sheltering in the Rafah, along the Egyptian border, with many having fled from northern Gaza, where a top official with the U.N. says there is now widespread famine.

American and Egyptian mediators have reported signs of compromise recently. However, chances for a cease-fire deal remain tangled up with the crucial question of whether Israel will accept a war ending without reaching its stated goal of eliminating Hamas.

Al-Qahera, Egyptian state news, said Saturday a consensus had been reached over many disputed points but didn’t elaborate. Hamas has called for a total end to the war and the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from Gaza.

More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza’s local health officials, and caused widespread destruction — plunging the region into a historic humanitarian crisis.

The conflict erupted in October when Hamas attacked southern Israel, killing around 1,200 and abducting 250 people, mostly civilians. Israel states militants are still holding about 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

A senior official in Israel, speaking anonymously, played down prospects for a complete end to the war. The official said Israel was committed to the invasion of Rafah and told The Associated Press it wouldn’t agree under any circumstance to end the war as part of a deal to release the hostages.

Early Saturday, Israeli strikes on Gaza killed at least six people. Three bodies were recovered from the rubble of a Rafah building and were taken to Yousef Al Najjar Hospital. According to hospital officials, a strike in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza killed three people.

In the past 24 hours, the bodies of 32 individuals killed in Israeli strikes have been brought to local hospitals, said the Gaza Health Ministry on Saturday. In its tallies, the ministry doesn’t distinguish between civilians and fighters but says children and women comprise two-thirds of those killed.

The Israeli military claims it has killed 13,000 militants.

Israel briefed Biden officials on civilian evacuation plans

Israel briefed the Biden administration in related developments this week on plans to evacuate civilians prior to the operation in Rafah, according to U.S. officials familiar with the discussions.

The U.N. has warned hundreds of thousands would be “at imminent risk of death” if Israel goes forward into the city, which is populated densely and is also a crucial entry point for humanitarian aid.

Cindy McCain, U.S. director of the U.N. World Food Program, said Friday that trapped civilians in the north, the most isolated part of Gaza, have plunged into famine. McCain said a greatly increased flow of aid via sea and land routes and a cease-fire was critical.

Israel recently opened new aid crossings into northern Gaza; however, on Wednesday, Israeli settlers blocked the first convoy before it crossed into the enclave. Once the convoy was inside Gaza, it was taken over by Hamas militants before U.N. officials regained control of it.

The Egyptian mediators’ proposal sets out a three-stage process that would bring about an immediate, six-week-long cease-fire and partial release of hostages held by Hamas and would include some type of Israeli pullout. The first stage would last for 40 days.

Hamas would begin by releasing civilian female hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners Israel has in their custody.

Director for the Middle East at the International Communities Organization, Gerson Baskin, said it appears Hamas has agreed to the Egyptian framework that is proposed, and Israel has already accepted.

Gerson said negotiators are now hammering out details. If Israel sends top negotiators to Cairo after the Sabbath ends Saturday night, it would signify that the talks are serious.