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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Hamas signals that wide gaps remain to reaching a cease-fire agreement

By Aaron Boxerman

Even as hopes have risen about the possibility of reaching a hostage release deal and cease-fire in the nearly four-month war between Israel and Hamas, substantial gaps between the two sides remain, a Hamas official has said.

A proposal hammered out in Paris last week “is being studied by the movement’s leadership and other resistance factions,” Osama Hamdan, a leader in Hamas’ political wing in Lebanon, told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. International on Friday. “But we cannot say that we have reached a conclusion.”

In the negotiating room, Israel was still insisting that “the military operation in Gaza would continue” after the cease-fire, Hamdan said, which contradicted Hamas’ condition for a permanent truce. Another key sticking point was an Israeli demand for a buffer zone inside the Gaza Strip he added.

Israeli leaders have said they will not compromise on their goal of toppling Hamas’ rule in Gaza and told the Israeli public to expect months more of fighting. Israeli troops have been destroying buildings to clear out what they have described as a security zone inside Gaza, in an attempt to prevent another surprise attack similar to the Hamas-led assault on Oct. 7 that prompted the war, Israeli officials have said.

Israel and Hamas do not recognize each other and negotiate via mediators, primarily Qatar and Egypt. On Sunday, Israeli, Egyptian and U.S. intelligence chiefs met with the Qatari premier in Paris, working out a framework for a potential cease-fire agreement, which was passed on to Hamas.

Ismail Haniyeh, leader of Hamas’ political bureau, spoke Friday with leaders of two other Palestinian armed groups — Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — about the potential deal, his office said in a statement.

In the statement, Haniyeh emphasized to his counterparts that the talks were aimed at “totally ending the aggression and the withdrawal of the occupation army outside of Gaza.”

As part of any cease-fire agreement, Hamas has demanded that Israel release the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails in exchange for the more than 100 Israeli hostages held captive in Gaza. Hamdan said that would include Palestinians serving life sentences for killing Israelis, including Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five consecutive life terms in an Israeli prison for killings committed during the second intifada in the early 2000s.

“Our demand is for the liberation of all Palestinian prisoners, especially because we have enough imprisoned Israeli soldiers in our possession to enable us to do so,” Hamdan said, later mentioning Barghouti by name.

Many Palestinians revere Barghouti as a courageous resistance figure untainted by the accusations of corruption and rights abuses that dog the current Palestinian leadership. Israeli officials view him as a terrorist responsible for deadly attacks.

In a Tuesday speech at a military academy in the occupied West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel appeared to rule out a mass Palestinian prisoner release, further raising doubts on the ability of both sides to reach a deal.

“We will not withdraw the Israel Defense Forces from the Gaza Strip and we will not release thousands of terrorists. None of this will happen,” Netanyahu said. “What will happen? Total victory!”

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