Officials say Hamas clears way for a possible Gaza ceasefire after dropping key demand

Hamas has given its initial approval of a US-backed proposal for a phased ceasefire deal in the Gaza Strip, dropping a key demand that Israel commit up front to a complete end to the war, a Hamas official and an Egyptian official have stated.

The apparent compromise by the Palestinian group could deliver the first pause in fighting since November and set the stage for further talks on ending a devastating nine months of war. But all sides cautioned that a deal is still not guaranteed.

The two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations, said Washington’s phased agreement would start with a “full and complete” six-week cease-fire during which older, sick and female hostages would be released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

During those 42 days, Israeli soldiers would withdraw from densely populated areas of Gaza and allow the return of displaced people to their homes in northern Gaza, the officials added.

A senior Hamas official, also speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss negotiations, later told The Associated Press that female soldiers would be among those released in the first phase.

Over that period, Hamas, Israel and mediators would negotiate the terms of the second phase that could see the release of the remaining male hostages, both civilians and soldiers, the first two officials stated. In return, Israel would free additional Palestinian prisoners and detainees. The third phase would include the return of any remaining hostages, including bodies of the dead, and the start of a yearslong reconstruction project.

Hamas still wants written guarantees from mediators that Israel will continue to negotiate a permanent cease-fire deal once the first phase goes into effect, the two officials said.

The first Hamas official told the AP the group’s approval came after it received “verbal commitments and guarantees” from the mediators that the war won’t be resumed and that negotiations will continue until a permanent cease-fire is reached.

“Now we want these guarantees on paper,” that official added.

Months of on-again off-again cease-fire talks have stumbled over Hamas’ demand that any deal include a complete end to the war. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered to pause the fighting but not end it until Israel reaches its goals of destroying Hamas’ military and governing capabilities and returning all hostages held by the group.

Israel, flouting a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire, has faced international condemnation amid its continued brutal offensive on Gaza since an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

More than 38,000 Palestinians have since been killed, mostly women and children, and over 87,700 others injured, according to local health authorities.

Nearly nine months into the Israeli war, vast tracts of Gaza lie in ruins amid a crippling blockade of food, clean water and medicine.

Human rights organizations have warned that thousands of people in the besieged enclave are facing the risk of famine amid ongoing Israeli devastating onslaught.

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