Live Coverage: Israel and Hamas in High-Stakes Cease-Fire Negotiations

Israel-Hamas War Cease-Fire Talks: Live Updates

Hamas Reviews Israel’s Latest Cease-Fire Proposal

As the United States and Israel place the onus of a Gaza cease-fire deal on Hamas, the leader of the group’s political wing, Ismail Haniyeh, revealed on Thursday that his team is scrutinizing Israel’s latest proposal with a “positive spirit.” The group aims to resume in-person negotiations soon.

The proposal, tabled after almost seven brutal months of war, envisages the release of hostages held by Hamas and Palestinian prisoners in Israel. It also promises the return of civilians to the largely depopulated northern part of Gaza and a surge in aid delivery to the beleaguered territory.

Hamas Delegation Set to Further Discussions in Egypt

On Thursday, Haniyeh informed an Egyptian official that his group was examining the proposal. A Hamas delegation is expected to visit Egypt shortly to “complete the ongoing discussions” for a pact that “fulfills our people’s demands and ends the aggression,” according to a statement from the group.

Less than a day before, Hamas spokesman, Osama Hamdan, expressed a negative stance on the current negotiating paper while speaking on Lebanese television. However, the Hamas press office later clarified that his comment was not an outright rejection. Some changes would need to be made for Hamas to agree, the office said, without providing further details.

Israel’s War Cabinet Convenes to Discuss Cease-Fire Talks

In Israel, the war cabinet was scheduled to convene on Thursday evening to discuss the cease-fire negotiations and a planned Israeli incursion into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city. According to an Israeli official who requested anonymity, around a million people have sought refuge in Rafah amidst the ongoing conflict.

During his visit to Israel on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken urged Hamas to accept the Israeli proposal. “We are determined to secure a cease-fire that brings the hostages home, and the only reason that that wouldn’t be achieved is because of Hamas,” he said.

Opposition Leader Criticizes Israeli PM’s Delay

Meanwhile, the Israeli opposition leader, Yair Lapid, criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not expediting the deal. He claimed Netanyahu had “no political excuse” for the delay.

Complex Negotiations and Potential Sticking Points

The negotiations, mired in complexity, have dragged on for months. Each bargaining piece moved has resulted in several others shifting. Adding to the intricacy is the fact that Israel and the United States do not communicate directly with Hamas, which they deem a terrorist organization. Instead, they rely on officials from Qatar and Egypt to act as intermediaries.

A seemingly intractable issue is Israel’s planned ground offensive into Rafah. “If the enemy carries out the Rafah operation, negotiations will stop,” Mr. Hamdan warned on Wednesday. “The resistance does not negotiate under fire.”

The Biden Administration’s Stance

The Biden administration has pressured the Israeli government to abandon the idea of a major invasion of the city, suggesting surgical operations to neutralize or capture Hamas leaders and fighters as an alternative.

However, Israeli officials have consistently and emphatically insisted that the offensive will take place. Far-right parties in Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition have hinted at leaving it if he calls off the offensive, which could cause the government to collapse and force new elections.

“We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate the Hamas battalions there — with or without a deal — in order to achieve total victory,” Mr. Netanyahu asserted in a statement released on Tuesday.

Hamas Insists on Permanent Cease-Fire

Hamas has insisted that any agreement would lead to a permanent cease-fire, not just a temporary halt in the fighting, a stance that Israel has dismissed as a Hamas ploy for time to re-establish itself as a governing and military force. The Biden administration has expressed optimism that a six-week pause in the war could be the initial step towards a lasting end to the fighting.

Israel Softens Some Demands

Earlier this week, Israel softened some of its positions. It agreed to allow Palestinians to return en masse to northern Gaza in the first phase of a cease-fire. Previously, it had insisted on screening returnees and limiting their flow.

Israel also retreated from its demand that Hamas release 40 hostages—female civilians and soldiers, and those who are ill or aged—after Hamas indicated that it did not have 40 living hostages in those categories. The latest proposal reduces the figure to 33. The number of Palestinians Israel is offering to free in exchange remains unclear.

Hostages and Casualties of the Conflict

During the Hamas-led assault on Israel on October 7, around 250 people were kidnapped and taken back to Gaza, according to the Israeli government. More than 100 were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November, and Israeli officials believe that more than 30 — possibly many more — are dead.

The October 7 attacks resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,200 people, according to Israeli reports. Gazan health officials maintain that Israel’s subsequent bombing and invasion resulted in over 34,000 deaths and inflicted injuries on countless more.

As the cease-fire talks continue amidst the enduring conflict, the hopes for peace rest heavily on the negotiations and decisions made by both parties. The international community keenly observes, hoping for a resolution that brings an end to the violence and suffering.