Dec 29, 2023 - World

Israeli officials: Qatar says Hamas "agreed in principle" to resume hostage deal talks

Protesters in Tel Aviv lift placards during a rally for supporters and relatives of Israeli hostages held in Gaza. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP via Getty Images

Qatari mediators told Israel that Hamas has "agreed in principle" to resume talks on a new deal to secure the release of more than 40 hostages held in Gaza in return for up to a month of a halt in fighting, three Israeli officials said.

The big picture: Israeli officials are treating the message with extreme caution and say they hope to get more clarification over the weekend in order to know if Hamas is indeed serious. Hamas has for weeks publicly demanded that Israel stop the war and pull out its forces from Gaza before any serious discussions on a new hostage deal begin.

What they're saying: One Israeli official said the Qatari message is still very initial "but it is positive because, for the first time since the previous deal ended, Hamas signals that it is ready to go back to the table. We move from freezing to very cold."

  • A second Israeli official said Israel still hasn't received a detailed proposal and it is waiting to hear more. "But in any case, the gaps are still big," he said.
  • A Qatari representative and the Israeli Prime Minister's Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A Hamas delegation was expected in Egypt on Friday for talks aimed at ending the war.

Hamas official Osama Hamdan told Al Jazeera later on Friday that Hamas told the Qatari and Egyptian mediators that its priority is to permanently stop the aggression against Gaza.

  • He accused Israel of leaking false information to fend off domestic pressure.

State of play: Israel put forth a proposal earlier this month in which it would agree to pause the fighting in Gaza for at least one week in exchange for Hamas releasing more than three dozen hostages, as Axios previously reported. Israel would also potentially release more Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

  • The heads of the CIA and Mossad, as well as the Qatari prime minister, met in Warsaw in mid-December to discuss the proposal.

Egypt last week proposed relaunching talks on a three-phase deal that would eventually see the release of all the hostages held by Hamas and Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons.

  • Under the Egyptian proposal, the third phase would include the ending of the war, the Israeli pullout from Gaza and the establishment of a technocratic government in the enclave that would not be affiliated with Hamas and would get the support of the U.S., Egypt and Qatar.

Israel has repeatedly vowed to remain in Gaza until it destroys Hamas. In recent days, it has expanded its operation in Gaza.

  • Hamas and other militant groups continue to hold about 130 hostages they abducted during the Oct. 7 terrorist attack. Hamas released more than 100 hostages in November as part of a seven-day pause in fighting.

Go deeper: Blinken expected to visit Middle East next week for talks on Gaza war

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional details.

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