Israel 'ready to pause Gaza offensive for new prisoner swap': report

Israel 'ready to pause Gaza offensive for new prisoner swap': report
Israel has reportedly proposed a week-long cessation of its war on Gaza to allow the freeing of 40 hostages, including women and elderly men in poor health.
4 min read
20 December, 2023
The previous truce collapsed on December 1 following a seven day pause in hostilities [GETTY]

Israel may be preparing for a pause in its indiscriminate war on Gaza in exchange for the release of hostages held by Hamas, in its first offer since it broke the seven-day ceasefire earlier in December.

CNN reported on Wednesday that Israel has proposed to Hamas a week-long cessation of fighting to allow the freeing of 40 Israeli captives, including women, elderly and people with critical health conditions, who are being held in unknown locations in Gaza.

An Israeli official cited by the network cautioned that the deal still needs time and that there is "nothing final" on the table.

Israel is asking for all captives to be released, while Hamas is asking for the release of all Palestinian prisoners –  including those held without charge and those convicted of "serious crimes" by Israeli military courts.

The details are being presented to Hamas through Qatari mediators, CNN political analyst Barak Ravid said, citing officials with knowledge on the matter.

Michael Herzog, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said that Israel is ready to pause its offensive if there can be guarantees of hostages being handed over.

“I think it’s premature to tell whether or not we have a deal because until now, Hamas refused to do another deal,” Herzog told CNN.

“They were hoping for a permanent ceasefire, but I hope that under the pressure of what we’re doing on the ground, plus the pressure from the Qataris, they will agree to do a deal, but it’s premature at this phase,” he said.

Around 130 captives, Israeli and foreign nationals, are currently being held in Gaza by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Eight US citizens are among the hostages, according to the White House.

Israel has said it believes 108 of the hostages are believed to still be alive. Last week, the Israeli army admitted killing three of its citizens who had been taken hostage during Hamas’ October 7 attack.

The previous truce collapsed on December 1 following a seven day pause in hostilities which saw the release of 110 hostages by Hamas and 240 minor and female Palestinian prisoners by Israel, along with the delivery of limited humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

The head of Hamas’s political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, arrived in Cairo on Wednesday for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials on a possible ceasefire and a deal for the release of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

The delivery of aid, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and the return of displaced people to their villages in the north of the Gaza Strip are believed to be topics on the table.

Earlier this week, the head of Israel’s intelligence agency David Barnea met Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and CIA director Bill Burns in Warsaw to discuss a new deal to free the hostages.

Barnea proposed resuming negotiations for the release of hostages but said that the war can only end when Hamas lays down its weapons and hands over those responsible for the October 7 attack, Israeli daily Jerusalem Post reported.

The renewed negotiations come just days after Hamas released a video purporting to show three elderly Israeli men held in captivity since October 7. Islamic Jihad also published clips of a video which showed two other elderly men speaking in Hebrew asking the Israeli government for help.

Nearly 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s brutal ten-week attack on Gaza which has seen the mass displacement of the majority of the 2.3 million population.

Swathes of the strip have been completely destroyed, while Israeli forces have targeted health facilities and refugee camps, and in recent weeks have detained and forcibly disappeared hundreds of Gaza residents.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said this week that the war in Gaza was a "moral failure" of the international community.