Hamas relaxes Gaza peace deal demands – Reuters

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The Palestinian armed group has agreed to a US timetable for starting talks on the release of male Israeli hostages, the news agency has said

Hamas has accepted a US proposal to begin talks on releasing male Israeli hostages and soldiers 16 days after the first phase of a de-escalation process begins, Reuters cited a senior official within the Palestinian group as saying.

The militant group has dropped its demand for Israel to first commit to a permanent ceasefire before signing the deal. The hostage issue will be addressed after the implementation of the first phase of an agreement aimed at settling the conflict in Gaza. According to the source cited by Reuters, Hams expects to end hostilities through talks during the deal’s first six-week phase.

If the US proposal is embraced by Israel, it could lead to a framework agreement that would bring peace to Gaza after nine months of conflict, the Hamas official suggested.

The American initiative also ensures that international mediators would guarantee a temporary ceasefire, deliver aid, and prompt the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Palestinian enclave, as long as indirect talks on the implementation of the second phase of the agreement are ongoing, he added.

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The first phase of the plan currently being considered by the sides calls for Hamas to set free elderly, sick and female hostages in exchange for a six-week truce, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the cities in Gaza and the release of Palestinian detainees held by Israel.

The second phase is expected to involve the release of all remaining hostages, including soldiers and men, as well as the bodies of those who died; it would also entail a permanent end to the fighting and the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

The reconstruction of Gaza in the wake of the Israeli bombing campaign and ground offensive should begin as part of phase three. According to media reports, the disagreements on how to switch from phase one to phase two have been the main obstacle to the negotiations in recent months.

On Thursday, Israel’s security cabinet approved sending a delegation to Doha to restart US, Qatar and Egypt-mediated talks to achieve a hostage and ceasefire deal with Hamas. The negotiations are going to take place next week, according to the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Times of Israel reported that prior to the announcement of the resumption of talks, Netanyahu met with Israeli negotiators, telling them that “the war will end only after achieving all of its goals, and not one moment earlier.” One of the main goals, earlier voiced by the PM, is the complete elimination of Hamas.

READ MORE: ‘Hamas has never been stronger’: Israel is stuck in a war it can’t win

Israel began its operation in Gaza in response to a cross-border incursion by Hamas last October, in which at least 1,200 people were killed and 250 taken hostage. Some 116 captives are believed to be still held in Gaza. At least 38,011 people have been killed so far and more than 87,445 others have been wounded in Israeli attacks on the Palestinian enclave, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

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