Officials propose to Hamas a six-week pause in the war and an exchange of hostages and prisoners


Representatives of four nations agreed to have Qatar present a fledgling framework to Hamas that proposes a six-week pause in the war in Gaza for Hamas to exchange some hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, officials say.

The talks are at an early stage and many details would need to be worked out if Hamas agrees to start building on the framework, they said. Qatar is presenting the proposal to Hamas's political leaders, who will pass it on to the group's military leaders, who will then send a response. That process could take days or even longer, because military leaders are hiding in tunnels deep in Gaza.

Under the proposed framework, Hamas would release elderly hostages, women and children, if any are still held and alive, during a six-week pause period, said the officials, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity to describe delicate diplomacy. . . That would be the first of three possible phases of exchanges.

During a seven-day pause in November, many people in those categories were among more than 100 hostages freed in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. But some remain in the hands of Hamas or other militant groups in Gaza.

Some Israeli officials say the number of hostages who would qualify for the first release is 30 to 35, but that is an estimate and negotiators do not know the actual number. It is not clear whether female soldiers would be included among the hostages released in the section under analysis. This could be resolved in negotiations of details, if talks reach that stage.

Hamas and other Gazans took about 240 people hostage in terrorist attacks in southern Israel on October 7, which also resulted in about 1,200 deaths, Israeli officials said. Israel's retaliatory military campaign, with strong weapons support from the United States, has killed some 25,000 people in Gaza, according to officials in that country's Ministry of Health.

Since the November exchange, talks over the release of hostages had stalled. Hamas has tried to steer any diplomacy toward discussing a permanent ceasefire, but Israeli leaders have opposed this. A meeting in Paris was aimed at reviving negotiations.

The terms of the broad framework were outlined on Sunday in Paris by representatives of the United States, Israel, Qatar and Egypt. William J. Burns, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was present, as were the heads of Israel's intelligence service, the Mossad, and the internal security agency, Shin Bet.

One official said Mr. Burns was very helpful in getting Israeli representatives to agree to some of the suggestions.

Israeli officials were expected to speak with leaders in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv about the framework after returning from Paris.

Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani flew from the Paris meeting to Washington, where he met with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Monday morning.

Blinken declined to give details of the framework at an afternoon news conference, saying “the less said, the better.” But he said the proposal now on the table is “compelling” and that “there is real hope for the future.”

He added that the countries in the talks were aligned on the initial framework to be presented to Hamas.

But, he said, “Hamas will have to make its own decisions.”

Sheikh Mohammed said in a public talk at the Atlantic Council after his meeting with Blinken that “we are in a much better place than we were a few weeks ago.”

“Our main role as a mediator is to do everything possible to achieve a negotiated solution that allows the hostages to be returned safely to their homes, while at the same time stopping the bombings,” he added.

If the proposed first hostage-for-prisoner exchange goes ahead successfully during a six-week pause in the war, then two other phases with similar terms could be implemented after details are worked out, officials briefed on the talks said. Over time, they said, Hamas could hand over male soldiers and corpses of people who died in captivity.

Some officials from the countries involved in the talks said they hoped the phases would lead to a permanent ceasefire. This was the hope among Qatari officials during the November lull, but it ultimately fell apart when fighting resumed and negotiators were unable to extend it.

The New York Times reported Saturday that U.S. officials are trying to push three major sets of negotiations toward a political resolution to the war. The first – and the one that US officials consider most urgent – ​​is about the hostages and a pause that could lead to a permanent ceasefire.

The second is reform of the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, the semi-autonomous body that administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. And the third is to try to get Israel to commit to a concrete path to a Palestinian state in exchange for Saudi Arabia agreeing to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel.

For months before the October 7 attacks, the Biden administration had been talking to Saudi officials about offering them American security guarantees if they agreed to normalize ties with Israel.

Michael Crowley contributed reports.

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