Millennium Post (Kolkata)

Ceasefire talks with Israel and Hamas expected to restart


Stalled talks aimed at securing a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas are expected to restart in earnest in Qatar as soon as Sunday, according to Egyptian officials.

The talks would mark the first time both Israeli officials and Hamas leaders joined the indirect negotiatio­ns since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Internatio­nal mediators had hoped to secure a six-week truce before Ramadan started earlier this week, but Hamas refused any deal that wouldn’t lead to a permanent cease-fire in Gaza, a demand Israel rejected.

In recent days, however, both sides have made moves aimed at getting the talks, which never fully broke off, back on track.

Hamas gave mediators a new proposal for a three-stage plan that would end the fighting, according to two Egyptian officials, one who is involved in the talks and a second who was briefed on them. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to reveal the contents of the sensitive discussion­s. The first stage would be a six-week ceasefire that would include the release of 35 hostages women, those who are ill and older people being held by militants in Gaza in exchange for 350 Palestinia­n prisoners being held by Israel.

Hamas would also release at least five female soldiers in exchange for 50 prisoners,

including some serving long sentences on terror charges, for each soldier. Israeli forces

would withdraw from two main roads in Gaza, let displaced Palestinia­ns return to north Gaza, which has been devastated by the fighting, and allow the free flow of aid to the area, the officials said.

Nearly one in three children under 2 years old in the isolated north are suffering acute malnutriti­on, the UN children’s agency UNICEF reported Friday.

In the second phase, the two sides would declare a permanent cease-fire and Hamas would free the remaining Israeli soldiers held hostage in exchange for more prisoners, the officials said.

In the third phase, Hamas would hand over the bodies it’s holding in exchange for Israel lifting the blockade of Gaza and allowing reconstruc­tion to start, the officials said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the proposal “unrealisti­c”. However, he agreed to send Israeli negotiator­s to Qatar for more talks. Those talks were expected to resume Sunday afternoon, though they could get pushed to Monday, the Egyptian officials said.

Netanyahu’s government has rejected calls for a permanent cease-fire, insisting it must first fulfil its stated goal of “annihilati­ng Hamas”. Netanyahu’s office also said Friday he approved military plans to attack Rafah, the southernmo­st town in Gaza where some 1.4 million displaced Palestinia­ns are sheltering.

The United States and other countries have warned such an operation could be disastrous, but Israel says it plans to push ahead to destroy Hamas battalions stationed there.

Many Palestinia­ns fled to Rafah when Israel began attacking Gaza following the Oct 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people and left another 250 hostage in Gaza.

Netanyahu’s office said the Rafah operation would involve the evacuation of the civilian population, but did not give details or a timetable. The military said Wednesday it planned to direct civilians to “humanitari­an islands” in central Gaza.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday: “We have to see a clear and implementa­ble plan” to safeguard innocent people in Rafah from an Israeli incursion.

“We have not seen such a plan,” he said. The Gaza Health Ministry said Saturday that at least 31,553 Palestinia­ns have been killed in the war. The ministry does not differenti­ate between civilians and combatants in its count but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

 ?? AP/PTI ?? Relatives and supporters of the Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group block a road during a rally calling for their release in Tel Aviv
AP/PTI Relatives and supporters of the Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group block a road during a rally calling for their release in Tel Aviv

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