Israel says will send delegation for Gaza ceasefire negotiations

Hamas has presented mediators with new ‘ideas’ on proposal for ceasefire and exchange of captives for prisoners.

Palestinians walk alongside a man on a wheelchair near buildings destroyed during previous Israeli bombardments, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on July 3, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
The development comes as Israel hammers southern Khan Younis city where it ordered 250,000 Palestinians to flee [Eyad Baba/AFP]

The head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency will travel to Doha at the head of a negotiating delegation amid a renewed push to end the bloodshed in Gaza as both Israel and Hamas speak to mediators about a long-stalled ceasefire plan.

Sources told Al Jazeera that Israeli intelligence chief David Barnea will lead the delegation and will meet with Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani before the start of a new round of negotiations.

News of Israeli negotiators returning to talks in Qatar follow after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US President Joe Biden in a phone call on Thursday that he had decided to send a delegation to negotiate with Hamas. But Netanyahu also said the war in Gaza would only end after “achieving all its objectives”, the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

That came after Hamas on Wednesday said it presented new “ideas” to Qatari, Egyptian and Turkish mediators on how to reach a ceasefire and captive-exchange deal.

Meanwhile, a US official told reporters in a call on Thursday that Hamas had shifted its position on a potential deal, without elaborating.

“We’ve had a breakthrough,” said the official, who spoke on background and cautioned that obstacles still remain.

Reporting from Amman, Jordan, Al Jazeera’s Hamdah Salhut said that Israeli media was reporting that the Mossad chief would travel to Qatar for a new round of talks, though it was not known exactly when.

“All the signs are pointing to this perhaps having some sort of fruitfulness to them, meaning that there’s a good starting point for both sides,” Salhut said.

Reports of revived ceasefire talks came as Israel hammered southern Khan Younis – Gaza’s second-largest city – on Thursday, killing at least seven people in an air raid near its main hospital. The attack comes amid orders by the Israeli military for an estimated 250,000 Palestinians to flee the Khan Younis area.

Long-stalled negotiations

With Gaza’s death toll surpassing 38,000 on Thursday and its inhabitants facing dire conditions, both Israel and Hamas are under increased international pressure to reach a truce – most recently based on a United Nations-backed plan outlined by Biden in May.

However, competing interpretations of that proposal, which break down the cessation of hostilities and exchange of captives into three stages, had brought negotiations to a standstill.

While the US insists Israel backs the plan, Netanyahu has repeatedly called it into question, promising not to end the war until Hamas is “eradicated”. Hamas wants a commitment that any agreement will end the war for good.

There has been little headway in negotiations since June 11 when Hamas said it was ready to “deal positively” with the proposal, but made several “amendments” it described as minor.

But in a sign talks are gaining new momentum, Hamas on Wednesday said it is again communicating with officials from Qatar, Egypt and Turkey with “the aim of reaching an agreement”.

“We exchanged some ideas with the mediator brothers with the aim of stopping the aggression against our Palestinian people,” a Hamas statement said.

Netanyahu’s office and the Mossad intelligence service confirmed the new approach almost straight away.

“The hostages deal mediators have conveyed to the negotiating team Hamas’s remarks on the outline … Israel is evaluating the remarks and will convey its reply to the mediators,” said an Israeli statement.

One source with knowledge of the talks, quoted by the AFP news agency, said Qatari and American efforts to “bridge the remaining gaps” between Israel and Hamas have gone on in the background for weeks.

‘Serious division’ in Israel

Rami Khouri, a fellow at the American University of Beirut, told Al Jazeera news of the revived talks is hopeful but key sticking points remain – including whether the agreement will end the war “completely” and how many Palestinian prisoners will go free in exchange for Israeli captives.

Political analyst Omar Baddar said there is “serious division” between Israel’s military and political establishment over how to proceed.

Military leaders, he told Al Jazeera, realise there is “no path to a better future for Israel out of this entire mess, and that it is time to simply end this war”.

The country’s political leaders, however, “have absolutely no interest in doing that”, he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony at the Nahalat Yitshak Cemetery in Tel Aviv
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [File: Shaul Golan via AP]

There has been no truce in Gaza since November when Hamas released more than 100 captives during a six-week pause.

Since then, Israel has expanded its Gaza offensive, even waging a bloody ground invasion in the southernmost district of Rafah – where hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped – against orders from the UN’s International Court of Justice.

Israel’s attacks in Gaza have killed a total of 38,011 people, mostly children, and wounded an additional 87,266 people since the war broke out, according to Palestinian officials.

Hamas’s October 7, 2023, assault on Israel killed at least 1,139 people, mostly civilians, and seized 251 captives. More than 100 abductees are still in Gaza with dozens believed dead.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies