Qatar tells Israel that Hamas ‘agrees in principle’ to resume hostage talks: report

Qatar tells Israel that Hamas ‘agrees in principle’ to resume hostage talks: report

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Negotiators from Qatar have informed Israeli government officials that Hamas “agrees in principle” to terms for a second hostage swap and ceasefire, Israeli media reported late Friday.

The proposed deal includes exchanging 40 Israeli hostages held by Hamas since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October for an undisclosed number of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel and a one to two week halt in fighting.

Citing reports in Hebrew, The Times of Israel quoted one Israeli official describing the deal as a positive development.

“We move from a freeze to a situation that is very cold,” he said.

A second official described negotiations as not yet concrete, adding that Israel is still waiting on details for a final negotiation.

Negotiations between the two sides, with Qatar as a mediator, have continued for weeks since the last weeklong cease-fire deal saw the release of about 100 Israeli hostages from Hamas captivity in exchange for about 240 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel last month. 

That deal was lauded by the international community, which has pushed Israel to halt or slow its military operations in Gaza, citing a rising civilian death toll and continued humanitarian crisis.

Hamas officials previously said the militant group is not interested in another short-term deal, though the Qatari message appears to contradict that claim.

President Biden met with Qatar leader Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani Tuesday to discuss a potential second deal and other negotiations with Hamas. Qatar, a longtime U.S. ally with good relations with Hamas, has become the key to U.S. diplomatic strategy in the war.

The Egyptian government proposed a similar peace plan to more permanently end the fighting this week, which also includes the exchange of hostages for prisoners, though neither Hamas nor Israel appeared eager to accept that proposal.

Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed to continuing fighting in the conflict, going against advice from the U.S. government to reduce military operations.

“We are expanding the fight in the coming days, and this will be a long battle, and it isn’t close to finished,” he said Monday.

The Oct. 7 Hamas attack, which sparked the war, killed about 1,200 Israelis and resulted in about 200 more being taken hostages by Hamas. Over 21,000 Palestinians have died in the war since, most of whom are women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Months of aerial bombardment and a grueling Israeli ground campaign have leveled most of the Gaza Strip and resulted in nearly the entirety of Gaza’s 2.3 million population being displaced and in need of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations.

The Israeli military executed two more strikes on Gaza City refugee camps early Saturday, after it admitted Thursday that a pair of similar Christmas Eve attacks killed dozens of civilians. 

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