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Hamas ‘studying’ Gaza hostage deal, Haniyeh says after rejection reports

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Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said on Tuesday that the group had received a ceasefire proposal put forward after talks in Paris and would study it, adding he would visit Cairo for discussions on the plan.

Haniyeh said the group’s priority was to end Israel’s military offensive and a full pullout of Israeli forces from Gaza. On Monday night, Hamas rejected the hostage deal drafted in Paris because it did not include a permanent ceasefire.

Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) reiterated that Israel must halt its Gaza offensive and withdraw from the Strip before any prisoner exchange takes place, Hamas said in a statement on Monday.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the proposal handed to Qatar, “was a strong one and a compelling one that offers some hope that we can get back to this process, but Hamas will have to make its own decisions.”

Blinken spoke amid optimism on the part of the US and Qatar, which along with Egypt is mediating a deal, that a framework had been found for an agreement.

A hostage deal has been a top US priority from day 1, Blinken stated.

Hostages who were abducted by Hamas terrorists as part of a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel, November 30, 2023 (credit: Hamas Military Wing/Handout via REUTERS)

Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Thani indicated that a hostage deal would be phased with women and children first, as he described the framework agreement that emerged from the Paris talks.

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The initial plan for hostage release deal 

“The framework that was agreed yesterday with all the parties was a framework based on what has been proposed by the Israelis and what has been a counter-proposal by Hamas,” Thani said during a public interview at an event hosted by think-tank The Atlantic Council.

“We tried to blend things,” he said, adding that this new proposal would now be relayed to Hamas.

Thani arrived from Paris, where he participated in closed-door talks on a deal with CIA Chief William Burns, Mossad Chief David Barnea, Shin Bet Chief Ronen Bar, hostage negotiator Maj.-Gen. (res.) Nitzan Alon, the head of the Egyptian Intelligence Services Abbas Kamel.

Thani said that Hamas rescinded its demand for a permanent ceasefire ahead of any negotiations, but “we moved from that place” to one that could lead to a ceasefire, “which we are all hoping for.”

NBC News Chief Washington Correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who conducted the interview together with David Ignatius of The Washington Post, asked Thani about the details of the deal.

Mitchell explained she understood that there would be “a phased pause in the fighting women and children first, and to continue this in phases as you proceed, with aid going in as well.”

Thani responded, “You are well informed.”

He described how one of the stumbling blocks to the deal had been a Hamas demand for a permanent ceasefire before holding talks, noting that this has now been rescinded.

“There was a clear demand of the permanent ceasefire ahead of the negations,” Thani said, explaining that Qatar had moved Hamas “from that place”, to one “that can lead to a ceasefire in the future. This is what we are all aiming for,” he stated.

The goal of the talks is to free the hostages and to stop the Israeli bombing in Gaza, Thani added.

Advancement in the talks comes as the US is weighing retaliatory military action for an attack that killed three troops in Jordan. Thani said he hoped this would not undercut progress toward a new Israel-Hamas hostage release deal.

“I hope that nothing would undermine the efforts that we are doing or jeopardize the process,” Thani said.

US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told MSNBC News that a framework exists for a deal to release the hostages, but he cautioned that nothing had been finalized.

“A lot of promise here, but again, I want to be very clear, there is still diplomacy ahead of us, a lot of discussions to occur before we can get there,” Kirby said.

He clarified, however, that “we don’t have a deal on the table and imminently ready to be announced.”

The US does “think that there is a framework here for another hostage deal that could make a difference in terms of getting more hostages out, getting more aid in, and getting the violence to calm down and that would reduce civilian casualties,” Kirby stated.

He later told reporters that the push was for “a humanitarian pause of sufficient duration that will allow a large number of hostages to be released.” During that period, more humanitarian assistance and go in and casualties will be reduced, Kirby said.

The broad framework under discussion has focused on an exchange of captives for the release of Palestinian security prisoners or terrorists, as well as a pause in the war.

It is presumed that the deal to free the 136 captives would be done in stages, as occurred with the November deal, during which 105 captives were freed during a week-long lull in fighting.

Hamas seized some 253 captives on October 7. KAN News reported that the latest bid to free the hostages included three phases, with the first one focusing on 40 captives including women, children, the elderly, and those who are sick.

The second phase would include male adults who are not soldiers, and the third phase would be for the soldiers, including the female ones.

Part of the deal would include the release of thousands of Palestinian security prisoners, including those convicted of terror offenses, but this latter group is only likely to be part of the agreement at the end.

Hamas said on Monday that releasing hostages it is holding would require a guaranteed end to the war and a full IDF withdrawal.

“The success of the Paris meeting is dependent on the Occupation (Israel) agreeing to end the comprehensive aggression on Gaza Strip,” senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

Hamas previously said a full release would require that Israel free all of the thousands of Palestinians held on security grounds in its prisons.

A Palestinian official, close to mediation talks, who requested anonymity, said that for Hamas to sign a follow-up deal to the November truce in which it released dozens of hostages, it wants Israel to agree to end the offensive and withdraw from Gaza – through implementation would not necessarily be immediate.

The agreement would have to be endorsed by Qatar, Egypt, and the US, the official said.

Israel has insisted it has no plan to end the war until Hamas is defeated or to relinquish security control of Gaza. One compromise position, however, could be that it would temporarily withdraw from selected target areas.

In an interview with Douglas Murray on Talk TV, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to stress that Qatar could do more to secure a deal, particularly given that top Hamas leadership lived in its country.

“We should demand from Qatar to use their leverage to achieve the release of the remainder of our hostages” as well as to provide proof that hostages have received medications as part of an existing deal with Hamas.

Qatar “has considerable influence [on Hamas] and I expect them to use it,” he stated.

Thani pushed back at Netanyahu’s assertions that the military campaign was an important pressure lever to free the hostages. He said it was “not getting any results to get the hostages back” and that diplomacy was the best route to secure their return.

He also denied claims that Qatar had any special leverage over Hamas, explaining that to the extent it gave them influence, then his country was using that to negotiate a deal.

Qatar’s role is as a mediator that offers solutions, “We do not see that Qatar is a superpower that can impose something on this party.”

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