Dec 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Israel offers Hamas one-week pause in fighting as part of a new hostage deal

Protesters hold up signs showing people held hostage in Gaza.

Hostages' family members and others protest last week outside the home of UN Secretary General António Guterres in New York. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Israel is offering to pause the fighting in Gaza for at least one week as part of a new deal to get Hamas to release more than three dozen hostages the terror group is holding, two Israeli officials and another source with knowledge of the situation told Axios.

Why it matters: The proposal, made through Qatari mediators, is the first Israel has offered since the collapse of a deal last month that led to a seven-day ceasefire and the release of more than 100 hostages.

  • Israeli officials say the proposal shows Israel is determined to relaunch serious negotiations for the release of more hostages, even as Hamas has said it will not resume negotiations as long as the fighting continues.
  • About 130 Israeli and foreign nationals are still being held hostage in Gaza. White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday that includes eight Americans.

Driving the news: CIA director Bill Burns met Monday with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and David Barnea, the head of Israel's Mossad spy agency, in Warsaw to discuss a potential deal to secure the release of more Israeli hostages.

Zoom in: Barnea presented an Israeli proposal for how to relaunch talks on a new deal to secure the release of a group of roughly 40 hostages, Israeli officials say.

  • The group would include the remaining women Hamas is holding, men above the age of 60 and other hostages who are sick or seriously wounded and in need of urgent medical care.
  • As part of the proposal Israel said it would agree for a temporary ceasefire of a least one week, Israeli officials say. In the previous deal, Israel agreed to a one-week pause of its attacks in Gaza in return for 80 hostages.
  • Israel also suggested it might release Palestinian prisoners who were convicted of more serious attacks on Israel than those who were released in the previous deal. Israeli officials say there are dozens of such Palestinan prisoners who are old or sick, and who could be released as part of a humanitarian deal.

During the meeting in Warsaw, the Qatari prime minister conveyed Hamas' position that Israel had to stop its attacks before any hostage negotiations could begin, the Israeli officials and the source with knowledge of the talks said.

  • Barnea replied that if Hamas wants the war to stop it needs to lay down its arms and turn in its leaders in Gaza who were responsible for the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that ignited the war.

Zoom out: The talks in Warsaw came a day after Hamas released video of three elderly Israeli men held hostage held in Gaza.

  • The three, who appeared thin and had long beards, called for Israel's government to stop the war so they could be released. Shortly after, relatives of the hostages called on the Israeli officials to speed up efforts to have them released.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with representatives of several hostages' families on Tuesday and stressed that he'd sent Barnea to Europe twice in the past week to push for a new hostage deal.
  • The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is believed to be holding two dozen hostages, released a video on Tuesday that showed two Israeli men who also called on Netanyahu to stop the war so they could be released.

What they're saying: An Israeli official involved in the talks said the Israeli proposal "is a real test for the Qatari mediation."

  • "If they want to show they can play a constructive role, now is the time to do it. Our expectation is that serious negotiations will resume as soon as possible," the Israeli official said.
  • The source with direct knowledge of the talks said Qatar is trying to relaunch the talks but said Israel's demands from Hamas and what it's demanding for the war to end complicate the situation.
Go deeper