Qatar seeking three day ceasefire in exchange of prisoners between Hamas-Israel

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DOHA: Qatari mediators were on Wednesday seeking to negotiate a deal between Hamas and Israel that includes the release of around 50 prisoners from Gaza in exchange for a three-day ceasefire, an official briefed on the negotiations said.

The deal, under discussion, which has been coordinated with the US, would also see Israel release some Palestinian women and children from Israeli jails and increase the amount of humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza, the official said.

Hamas has agreed to the general outlines of this deal, but Israel has not and it is still negotiating the details, the official said.

It is not known how many Palestinian women and children Israel would release from its jails as part of the agreement under discussion.

The scope of the Qatari-led negotiations has changed significantly in recent weeks, but the fact that the talks are now focused on the release of 50 prisoners in exchange for a three-day truce and that Hamas has agreed to the outline of the deal have not been reported before.

The wealthy Gulf state of Qatar, which has ambitious foreign policy goals, has a direct line of communication with Hamas and Israel. It has previously helped mediate truces between the two.

Such a deal would require Hamas handing over a complete list of remaining living prisoners held in Gaza.

A more comprehensive release of all prisoners is not currently under discussion, the official said.

There was no immediate response from Israeli officials, who have previously declined to provide detailed comment on the prisoner negotiations, citing reluctance to undermine the diplomacy or fuel reports they deemed “psychological warfare” by Palestinian fighters.

When asked about the negotiations, Taher Al-Nono, media adviser to Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, did not directly confirm the deal under discussion.

“Netanyahu is stalling and is undermining any progress. He is exploiting the issue of the captives to continue the aggression. Netanyahu isn’t serious about reaching an agreement,” Nono said. The Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment.

Israeli Minister Benny Gantz, who is in the war cabinet, said at a news conference on Wednesday: “Even if we are required to pause fighting in order to return our hostages, there will be no stopping the combat and the war until we achieve our goals.” Asked to elaborate on what is hindering the prisoner deal, Gantz declined to give any details.

Previously, talks had focused on Hamas releasing up to 15 prisoners and a pause in the Israeli assault on Gaza up to three days, sources in the Gulf and elsewhere in the Middle East said.

Two Egyptian security sources said there was only agreement so far on limited truces in specific areas of Gaza. They said Israel had shown reluctance to commit to any wider deal, but appeared to have moved closer to doing so by Tuesday.

The Qassam Brigades, said on Monday that it had told Qatari negotiators it was willing to release up to 70 women and children in return for a five-day truce.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that “we have been working relentlessly for the release of the hostages, including using increased pressure since the start of the ground incursion”.

It is unclear whether Hamas is currently able to compile an accurate list of prisoners it holds since the Israeli bombardment has caused it communications and organisational problems in Gaza, a Western diplomat in the region said.

Gathering the prisoners for any simultaneous release, which Israel wants, would be logistically difficult without a ceasefire, said another source in the region with knowledge of the negotiations.

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