Hamas has proposed a 135-day cease-fire plan that would include the release of remaining militant-held hostages, withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and an end to the war that has killed tens of thousands and left the enclave in ruins.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were meeting to discuss the plan Wednesday, exactly four months after a Hamas-led assault on Israeli border communities ignited the conflict.
Netanyahu’s office released a brief statement saying the proposal details “are being thoroughly evaluated.” But Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Israeli forces will oversee security in Gaza, even after the war. Israel’s Channel 13 quoted a senior Israeli official it did not name as saying the Hamas proposal is unacceptable and a debate within the government involves whether to reject the plan outright or enter into negotiations.
The proposal, published by in Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper, would not require a permanent cease-fire at the outset of the deal but requires it before the last batch of hostages would be released. Female hostages, males under 19, the elderly and sick would be released during the first 45-day phase along with Palestinian women and children from Israeli jails.
The Hamas plan comes in response to the latest round of talks brokered by the U.S., Qatar and Egypt. The militant group issued a statement thanking Egypt, Qatar and “all countries that seek to stop the brutal aggression” against Palestinians. The response came after consultation among its leadership and other “resistance factions” in the region, the statement said.
“The movement dealt with the proposal in a positive spirit to ensure a comprehensive and complete cease-fire, end the aggression against our people, in a manner that guarantees relief, accommodation, reconstruction, lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and completing an exchange of prisoners,” the statement said.
Hamas response to cease-fire plan:Seen as ‘positive’ and ‘over the top’
∎ Hamas wants the deal guaranteed by Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, Russia and the United Nations − but not the U.S.
∎ Blinken was scheduled to meet Wednesday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. The U.S. has pressed for the authority to take a leadership role in Gaza after the war, a position Israel has consistently rejected.
∎ Israel announced the death of two more of its soldiers in Gaza, raising the total of slain troops in the ground offensive to 227.
The Hamas plan’s first 45 days
The first phase of the Hamas plan would require a pause in fighting with Israel repositioning its military forces away from high-population areas in Gaza. In addition to the release of some hostages, Israel would release 1,500 Palestinians, including 500 selected by Hamas that may be serving life sentences for terror-related activities.
The flow of humanitarian aid would be drastically increased to the enclave, and reconstruction of hospitals, homes and other crucial buildings would begin. Gazans order out of their homes by Israeli forces ahead of military assaults would be allowed to return. Talks aimed at a permanent end to the war also would begin.
Final group of hostages would be released in second phase of deal
Some details of the second phase of the Hamas plan would be negotiated during the first phase. But the second phase would require a completion of talks resulting in an end of the war and the release of the rest of the militant-held hostages in exchange for a “certain number” of Palestinians held in Israeli jails. That likely would mean the release of thousands of Palestinians. Israel would remove all its troops from Gaza and reconstruction of the enclave would be stepped up.
In the third stage, the two sides would exchange the bodies of those killed in the war, along with continued humanitarian aid into and reconstruction of Gaza.
War reaches 4-month mark
Events marking four months since the war began were held Wednesday in Jerusalem, London, Paris and elsewhere. The conflict began Oct. 7, when Hamas-led militants crashed across the border on a killing spree that left 1,200 people dead in Israeli border communities. Hours later the militants fled back to Gaza with more than 240 hostages, over 100 of whom were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November. More than 27,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s devastating military effort to free the hostages and remove Hamas from power.
Who are the Houthis and what do they want?
While the global focus shifts to cease-fire proposals between Hamas and Israel, Houth rebels in Yemen continue to disrupt shipping in the Middle East. The Iran-backed militants have been fighting for control of Yemen for more than a thousand years. Now they are taking on the overwhelming military might of the U.S., Britain and their powerful Western allies.
Yemen specialists say the Houthis are a political movement, a military force and a religious group. They have been fighting in a civil war in Yemen since 2014 against a fledgling government that is backed militarily by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and − indirectly, through weapons supplies − the U.S. and Britain.
Gregory Johnsen, a fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said that beyond their stated reasons of defending Palestinians against Israel’s onslaught in Gaza, the Houthis are seeking to exploit their attacks on Red Sea ships for their own political and economic ends. Read more here.
− Kim Hjelmgaard
They support Palestinians in Gaza.But what do Yemen’s Houthi rebels really want?