What’s happened: After a nearly two-week delay, Hamas has finally responded to the latest proposed hostage deal.
- According to Reuters and Israeli media reports Hamas has proposed a three-stage ceasefire plan, each lasting 45 days:
- Stage one would see all Israeli female hostages, males under 19, the elderly and sick released in exchange for Palestinian women and minors still held in Israeli prisons. Israel would allow for the reconstruction of hospitals, with the IDF withdrawing from populated areas of the Strip.
- In the second phase, all Israeli male hostages would be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.
- In the third stage, Hamas would release the bodies and remains, presumably in exchange for more prisoners.
- According to Reuters, Hamas added “an addendum to the proposal that it wished for the release of 1500 prisoners, a third of whom it wanted to select from the a list of Palestinians handed life sentences by Israel.”
- Israel’s Prime Minister Office confirmed that the Mossad had received Hamas’s response through Qatari mediators and was reviewing the proposal.
- US President Joe Biden responded by calling Hamas’s answer “a little over the top.”
- According to the latest IDF assessment, at least 31 of the 136 hostages held in Gaza are no longer alive. According to the New York Times, another 20 have also been killed.
- Inside Gaza, the IDF continues to operate in Khan Yunis in the south as well as in the north of the Strip.
- On Tuesday, the IDF Spokesperson Hagari gave a progress report on the subterranean operations underneath Khan Yunis, declaring, “there are not many compounds left and we have reached most of them.”
- He also revealed that IDF forces found intelligence material, “indicating a direct ‘connection’ from Iran to Hamas and more so – to Yahya Sinwar. We found official Hamas documents from 2020 detailing the funds transferred by Iran between the years 2014 and 2020 to Hamas and to Sinwar. More than one hundred and fifty million dollars were transferred from Iran to Hamas. This is another example of how Iran exports terror across the Middle East.”
- He added, “In the same subterranean space, we also found a safe with banknotes and bags containing more than twenty million shekels in cash.”
Context: It took Hamas almost two weeks to respond to the proposal reached under the auspices of the director of the CIA, alongside the head of the Mossad, the head of Egyptian intelligence and the Qatari prime minister in Paris at the end of January. (Read more details of the original proposed deal here).
- As anticipated, Hamas is looking to secure the release of heavyweight Palestinian terrorists responsible for the murder of Israelis. Whilst the hostage families and their supporters demand a deal at any price, others in Israel are concerned for the longer term effect of releasing unrepentant murders. Families of victims are likely to raise an appeal against their release.
- With no agreement on the hostage deal, Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to reinforce his message that the war will not end until Israel achieves “total victory.”
- As the combat continues, earlier this week Netanyahu said that 18 out of 24 Hamas battalions have been destroyed.
- Similarly, Defence Minister Gallant shared his assessment that “about half” of the Hamas fighting corps have been killed or seriously wounded.
- Although precise numbers are unclear, it is estimated that there were between 25,000-30,000 Hamas fighters before October 7th.
- According to the Hamas controlled health ministry in Gaza, over 27,000 Palestinians have been killed. However these figures do not distinguish between civilians and combatants and cannot be independently verified. Furthermore, the circumstances of the deaths of all those killed are not clear, with some thought to have died when Hamas rockets misfired and landed inside Gaza.
- The IDF announced another officer was killed in combat on Tuesday, taking the toll since the launch of the ground operation to 226 IDF personnel.
- There are calls among Israeli leaders to change the mechanism for delivering aid into Gaza, as more evidence suggests Hamas maintains the ability to controls the aid and its distribution.
- US Secretary of State arrived in Israel on Tuesday night and is expected to hold meetings over the next couple of days with Israeli leaders as well as visit the West Bank.
- Following his visit to Saudi Arabia, Blinken said, “the Saudi Crown Prince once again announced Saudi Arabia’s great interest in continuing the normalisation process with Israel”.
Looking ahead: Blinken will meet today with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Herzog, Defence Minister Gallant and other senior Israeli officials.
- Following Gallant’s announcement, there is anticipation that the IDF would extend the ground operations to the southern most town of Rafah on the Egyptian border.
- However, it is possible that this was more of a threat to induce Hamas to accept the terms of the prisoner deal.
- There is speculation that the senior Hamas leadership is hiding out in the Rafah area, but any ground operation would require the movement of over a million Gazans who have fled south and risk fracturing Israeli-Egyptian ties.