Hamas says no news on truce deal as tens of thousands of Israelis protest

Antigovernment protest organizers in Tel Aviv estimated 130,000 converged downtown on Saturday night demanding an immediate ceasefire deal to bring the captives home from Gaza.

People attend a mass demonstration in <span>Tel Aviv</span> against Benjamin Netanyahu's government and demand the release of captives in Gaza on Saturday [Eloisa Lopez/Reuters]

Hamas says there’s been no progress in ceasefire talks with Israel over the war on Gaza as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tel Aviv demanding the government save the captives and get a deal done.

Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official based in Lebanon, said on Saturday the Palestinian group is still ready to discuss any truce proposal that ends the nearly nine-month conflict.

“Once again, Hamas is ready to deal positively with any proposal that secures a permanent ceasefire, a comprehensive withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and a serious swap deal,” Hamdan told a news conference in Beirut.

Arab mediators’ efforts, backed by the United States, have so far failed to conclude a ceasefire with both sides blaming each other for the impasse. Hamas says any deal must end the war for good and bring full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israel says it will accept only temporary pauses in fighting until Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, is “eradicated”.

Hamdan also blamed the United States for applying pressure on Hamas to accept Israel’s conditions.

Antigovernment protest organisers in Tel Aviv estimated 130,000 Israelis converged downtown on Saturday night demanding an immediate truce deal to bring the captives home.

At a news conference held outside the defence ministry, family members of those held in Gaza made statements to the crowd.

“Do not let Netanyahu sabotage the deal again. Netanyahu’s insistence on prolonging the war stands between us and our loved ones,” one unidentified relative said.

“Continuing the war means killing the hostages at the hands of the Israeli government. The people understand that Netanyahu prolongs the war for personal reasons – reaching a deal would lead to early elections and end his rule.”

New American text

On Saturday, The Associated Press news agency quoted an unnamed “senior Biden administration official” as saying the US has presented new language to intermediaries Egypt and Qatar aimed at trying to jump-start stalled Israel-Hamas negotiations.

The official said the revised text focuses on negotiations that are to start between Israel and Hamas during the first phase of a three-phase deal that US President Joe Biden laid out nearly a month ago.

The first phase calls for a “full and complete ceasefire”, a withdrawal of Israeli forces from all densely populated areas of Gaza, and the release of a number of captives – including women, older people and the wounded – in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

The proposal called for the parties to negotiate the terms of the second phase during the 42 days of phase one. Under the current proposal, Hamas could release all of the remaining men, both civilians and soldiers. In return, Israel could free an agreed-upon number of Palestinian prisoners and detainees. The releases will not occur until “sustainable calm” takes effect and all Israeli troops withdraw from Gaza.

The new proposed language, which the official did not detail, aims to find a workaround for differences between Israel and Hamas regarding the parameters of the negotiations between phase one and phase two.

Hamas wants negotiations centred on the number and identity of Palestinian prisoners to be released from Israeli jails, in exchange for remaining living Israeli soldiers and male captives held in Gaza, the official said. Israel wants negotiations to be broader and include the demilitarisation of the territory controlled by Hamas.

Hamdan said the group had yet to receive a new ceasefire proposal from mediators. Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh spoke by phone with the head of Egypt’s intelligence service to discuss the negotiations, Hamas said in a statement.

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Growing fears of wider war

Talks of a truce come as pressure mounts on regional and world leaders to bring a halt to the Gaza war as fears of its expansion into Lebanon rise. Both Hamas ally Hezbollah and Israel officials have threatened major escalation over the past week.

Analysts have said a full-out war in northern Israel and southern Lebanon would be catastrophic for the Middle East. Seven countries have called on their nationals to urgently leave Lebanon, the latest being Saudi Arabia, which urged its citizens to “depart the Lebanese territory immediately”.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant threatened this week to bomb Lebanon “back to the Stone Age” if major conflict erupted. Hezbollah’s main ally Iran warned Israel of an “obliterating war” if it attacked Lebanon.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Saturday highlighted the prospect of an “unprecedented” war in the region, calling for urgent international intervention to prevent the “expansion of the gravely escalating conflict”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies