Hamas has responded 'positively' to the proposal to release the hostages

DOHA, Qatar — Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said Tuesday that Hamas has given a promising response to a proposed deal to release hostages in exchange for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza fighting and Israel's release of Palestinian prisoners.

Speaking at a news conference with Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken, Mohammed said, “The response has been mixed, but generally positive.” Hamas' response was sent to Israel, where Blinken plans to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials on Wednesday.

Blinken said the response was being reviewed and that he would “discuss it with the Israeli government tomorrow.” There is still a lot of work to be done, but we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and indeed necessary. He and other officials characterized the hostage agreement as a step toward broader U.S. goals for a permanent political settlement in the Middle East, including a Palestinian state.

Addressing Hamas at the White House shortly before delivering public comments on a bipartisan Senate bill for additional funding for Ukraine, Israel and other crises, President Biden commented only briefly on the hostage situation.

“There is some movement, there is a response from Hamas, but it seems to be a little bit more, and we don't know where it is,” Biden said.

The proposal, negotiated between the US, Qatar and Egypt with Israeli participation, is a broader framework that includes an initial six-week ceasefire and the release of all civilian hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. In return, Israel would release three Palestinian prisoners for every hostage taken.

It will be the longest pause in fighting since the war began four months ago. About 100 hostages are believed to be still alive, and Israeli officials say Hamas is holding at least 29 bodies. A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces said “most” of the dead were killed in an Oct. 7 Hamas attack in southern Israel. Washington's hope is that the initial six-week break could be extended, which could lead to a long-term solution.

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Israel has agreed in principle to the framework, and Egypt offered temporary terms to Hamas a week ago, according to people familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity about the sensitive matter.

In a brief public statement online, Hamas said it carried out the project in a positive spirit, pledging humanitarian aid to Gaza to end Israel's “siege” to “ensure a comprehensive and complete cease-fire and end the aggression against our people.” and “Completing a prisoner exchange.”

While both Blinken and Mohamed insisted there is still work to be done to evacuate the structure, Israel and Hamas strongly objected to many details, including whether Palestinian prisoners would be eligible for release and whether Israeli troops would withdraw from residential areas during the ceasefire.

A key element is Hamas' desire that any hostage deal result in a permanent ceasefire – something Netanyahu has steadfastly refused to consider, vowing instead to continue fighting until “total victory”. The Israeli prime minister has come under pressure from the hostages' families, some of whom have said freeing them should be Israel's top priority. Other family members have agreed to disagree with far-right officials in Netanyahu's government and have called for the fight to continue until Hamas is defeated and its leaders killed.

Blinken, who arrived here on Tuesday evening on his fifth trip to the Middle East since the start of the war, was due to hold an initial meeting with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the lavish Lusail Palace, an hour before Hamas's response was received by Qatar. The two had a brief discussion.

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Blingen was not given the full Hamas document until his later meeting with the prime minister, according to a senior US official who spoke on condition of anonymity about diplomatic negotiations.

US officials have been waiting for a response for days, telling reporters that “the ball is in Hamas's court” and speculating that there are internal divisions within the militant group or that the Israeli military is making gains deep in Gaza's tunnels. Others familiar with the negotiations said the complete blackout in Gaza since the start of the war and communications problems, including sporadic cell phone and wireless communications, were largely to blame.

Communication was “some of the challenges,” Mohammed said, “but so was negotiation. It took a while to get them to a place where they were getting that response.

The substance of Hamas's response was shrouded in secrecy, but it was enough to publicly raise hopes that the US and Qatari ambassadors could successfully conclude a deal.

Disclosing the details “doesn't benefit the negotiations,” Mohamed said, adding, “It seems to us that the overall prospect, at least we got it, is more promising and more likely for better results. We hope it will bear fruit soon.”

Now that the answer is in hand, Blinken said, “we will work as hard as we can to get an agreement so that we can move forward with a renewed but expanded hostage agreement and all the benefits. It usually brings up everything we do in diplomacy.” An initial deal last November freed 105 hostages and led to a week-long pause in the fighting.

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Nearly 2 million people, more than three-quarters of the population, are trapped in an ever-smaller plot of land to avoid land as Israel continues its offensive in Gaza. Attacks by Israeli troops and incessant airstrikes. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, more than 27,000 Gazans have been killed since the war began.

Mohammed repeated Qatar's call for a full-scale ceasefire, a position supported by most of the world, but a call for Hamas to regroup and rebuild, rejected by Israel and the United States. He also criticized the cutoff of funding by the United States and other countries to UNRWA, the United Nations agency that coordinates and provides most of the aid to Gaza. October 7 attacks on Israel.

“We cannot punish a humanitarian organization just because there are some allegations against some of its employees,” he said.

During each of his visits to the region, Blinken tried to pressure Israel to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza and allow more humanitarian aid into the region. International aid community.

Asked at the news conference if he was too “good” to be secretary of state and not pushing Israel too hard, the soft-spoken Blinken said, “I'll let other people speak to my character. What I can say is that most people who consider me very privileged right now don't get there by being good all the time.

DeYoung reported from Washington. Sarah Taduch in Beirut, Shira Rubin in Tel Aviv and Claire Parker in Cairo contributed to this report.

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