What is happening with the latest Israel-Hamas truce talks?

What is happening with the latest Israel-Hamas truce talks?
Israel and Hamas have reportedly agreed ‘in principle’ to a prisoner exchange and 30-day pause in fighting.
4 min read
24 January, 2024
The final deal still needs ironing out with sticking points related to Hamas’ desire for an end to the war [GETTY]

A fresh round of negotiations between Israel and Hamas have resulted in a framework for a 30-day pause in hostilities which would mark the longest cessation in fighting since the war began on 7 October.

On Wednesday the two parties agreed "in principle" to a hostage and detainee swap following intense mediation from Qatar, Egypt and the US, according to reports.

The final plan still needs ironing out with sticking points related to Hamas’ desire for an end to the war to be laid out, according to sources cited by Reuters.

The framework would see an exchange of Israeli hostages held by Hamas and Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails and allow for desperately needed humanitarian aid into the stricken Gaza Strip.

US Middle East envoy Brett McGurk is in Cairo and Doha this week for meetings and the UK’s Foreign Secretary David Cameron is due to arrive in the region on Wednesday.

What does Hamas want?

During the most recent round of talks, the Palestinian group was pushing for a permanent end to the war alongside a prisoner swap, but this was firmly rejected by Israel.

"I reject outright the terms of the surrender of the monsters of Hamas," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, arguing that such a deal would allow Hamas to remain "intact". 

Hamas is keen for the deal to ensure the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and an end to the occupation.

Spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters on Monday that the group is open to proposals, but no agreement had yet been reached.

"We are open to all initiatives and proposals, but any agreement must be based on ending the aggression and complete withdrawal of the occupation from the Gaza Strip," Abu Zuhri said.

What does Israel want?

Following Wednesday's report of a burgeoning deal, unnamed Israeli officials told Haaretz newspaper that differences between the two parties remain "very large".

"The gap on the essential issues is very large, and it seems it cannot be bridge now. But the two sides continue to conduct indirect talks in an attempt to find a formula that will allow a move," the official said.

Another source told the paper that Israel is hoping "Hamas will show greater flexibility in its positions and decide that it is willing to pay a higher price in order to reach a truce".

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing growing resentment at home as the Israeli public is losing patience over the fate of the 136 Israeli hostages in Gaza.

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The Israeli army has also been struggling to achieve the war's stated aims of rescuing captives and dismantling Hamas, despite nearly four months of ferocious fighting.

In addition, there has been increasing resentment from abroad over Israel’s military campaign, which has killed over 25,000 Palestinians and triggered a humanitarian catastrophe.

What previous conditions were suggested?

Hamas has previously said that it would not agree to a deal which did not include an outright end to the war.

But Israel rebuffed this and instead offered a two-month long ceasefire proposal in return for the release of the hostages, according to a recent report in Axios.

Citing Israeli officials, the plan was given to Egyptian and Qatari mediators following approval by the Israeli war cabinet ten days earlier.

In recent weeks, Israel made a bolder proposal which suggested expelling Hamas’ senior leaders from the Gaza Strip, according to a report on Tuesday from CNN.

The idea was reportedly floated by Mossad chief David Barnea as part of negotiations leading back to December during a meeting in Warsaw with CIA director Bill Burns and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

Barnea said in Doha this month that he made the proposals again to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who reportedly said that the idea "would never work".

The idea was firmly rejected by Hamas and would have seen the removal of top figures, including Yayha al-Sinwar and Mohamed al-Deif, who have been on Israel's hit list for years.

When was the last ceasefire and what happened?

The last truce saw the two fighting parties agree to a week-long pause in hostilities in November.

Some 130 hostages were freed by Hamas under the carefully constructed arrangement which also saw the release of around 240 Palestinians, mainly women and teenagers, who were imprisoned in Israel.

Since then there have been concerted efforts by UN officials and diplomats to engage in talks for another humanitarian ceasefire.