Israel signals progress in Gaza truce talks, Palestinians see little movement

By Thomson Reuters Feb 24, 2024 | 12:56 PM

By Dan Williams and Nidal al-Mughrabi

JERUSALEM/CAIRO (Reuters) – Israeli leaders planned to convene on Saturday to hear of possible progress in mediated negotiations on a new Gaza truce to recover hostages held by Hamas, but Palestinians saw little change in polarised positions almost five months into the war.

Israeli delegates met on Friday in Paris with Qatari, Egyptian and U.S. mediators who helped put together the lone ceasefire so far, in November, under which scores of Hamas’ captives went free in return for a Palestinian prisoner release.

Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said that, in an evening meeting after the Jewish Sabbath, the war cabinet would be briefed by the delegates, who returned on Saturday.

The planned briefing “shows that they feel they did not come back empty-handed,” he told Israel’s Channel 12 TV. “From the tone of what I have been hearing in recent hours, it will be possible to make progress.”

Hanegbi did not give further details, but appeared to nod when asked if progress could be made in time for the Muslim fast month of Ramadan, which begins on or around March 10 and which, in past wars, has been seen as propitious for ceasefire efforts.

Hamas holds 130 hostages from its cross-border rampage on Oct. 7 which sparked the war. It has previously conditioned the return of all of them on Israel permanently ending the Gaza offensive and freeing thousands of jailed Palestinian militants.

Israel has publicly balked at such a large-scale prisoner release and says any halt to the fighting would be temporary as it intends to dismantle Hamas, an Islamist faction sworn to its destruction, by eventually broadening the offensive.

A Palestinian official briefed on the talks said that the Israelis, in Paris, had been “vague” about their Gaza endgame.

“While Israel is focusing on an attempt to turn any agreement into a prisoner-swap deal, Hamas insists that any agreement must based on an a commitment by the Israeli occupation to end the war and pull its forces from the Gaza Strip,” the official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters. “This is the priority as far as Hamas is concerned.”

Another Palestinian official indicated that a hostage release as part of an exchange was not imminent, saying there had been “no discussion over the prisoners, neither in terms of categories or numbers”.

A source briefed on the talks, and who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the Paris talks had produced a proposed truce “outline” that could eventually lead to a truce, but gave no further detail.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and David Holmes)