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Israel rejects hostage deal with Hamas – media

Israel has rejected a new hostage deal proposed by the Palestinian armed group Hamas that would have established a long-term ceasefire, with the gradual withdrawal of West Jerusalem’s troops from Gaza, Axios reported on Monday, citing sources.

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The proposal was made to Israel through Qatari and Egyptian mediators on Sunday, according to two Israeli officials and another source familiar with the matter.

Hamas reportedly offered to end the hostilities in three stages. Each one is said to include a pause in the fighting for more than a month in exchange for the release of hostages held by the group. In the first stage, Israel would have started withdrawing its forces from Gaza in exchange for the freeing of around 40 hostages. The deal would have also likely involved West Jerusalem releasing an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners, according to the report.

Under the terms of the reported deal, both sides would have ended the war, which has raged since early October, once the third stage is implemented, while Hamas would release captured Israeli soldiers.

The Israeli war cabinet discussed the proposal, but rejected it as unacceptable, according to the article. One Israeli official told Axios that the overture was “totally off base and we asked the mediators to try and produce a more acceptable proposal.” Nevertheless, the outlet’s sources said the proposal means that Hamas is ready to negotiate.

A Hamas delegation went to Cairo in late December to discuss an Egyptian proposal to end the hostilities. Several media reports indicated that, in addition to an extendable ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas and Palestinian prisoners, it also included the establishment of a technocratic government in the enclave following a dialogue with all Palestinian factions.

On October 7, Hamas took around 240 Israelis hostage. Since then, the sides have managed to negotiate the release of around 100 captives held in Gaza in exchange for West Jerusalem freeing 240 Palestinians, while agreeing to a week-long ceasefire. The truce collapsed as the two sides accused each other of violating the agreement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country will continue its military operation against Hamas until the group is defeated, Gaza is completely “demilitarized,” and its inhabitants “deradicalized.”

The Hamas-Israel conflict has so far claimed the lives of nearly 22,000 Palestinians and more than 1,100 Israelis.

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