Hamas says it's studying Gaza cease-fire proposal, but appears to rule out key provisions


BEIRUT (AP) — Hamas officials said Friday that the group is studying a proposed cease-fire deal that would include prolonged pauses in fighting in Gaza and swaps of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners, but at the same time appeared to rule out some of its key components.

Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Beirut, said the group remains committed to its initial demands for a permanent cease-fire. Hamdan also said the group seeks the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners being held for acts related to the conflict with Israel, including those serving life sentences. He mentioned two by name, including Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian uprising leader seen as a unifying figure.

Hamdan's comments on the prisoners were the most detailed demands yet to be raised by the group in public.

The insistence on large-scale prisoner releases and on an end to the fighting in Gaza put the group at odds with the multi-stage proposal that officials from Egypt, Israel, Qatar and the United States put forth this week. The proposal does not include a permanent cease-fire.

Israeli leaders have said they will keep fighting until Hamas is crushed, even while agreeing to long pauses that are accompanied by the release of hostages.

The multi-stage proposal on the table was drafted by officials from the United States, Israel, Qatar and Egypt. Qatar and Egypt have been serving as mediators between Israel and Hamas.

A senior Egyptian official familiar with the discussions on Friday described the proposal, which he said Hamas had sent positive signals about. The Egyptian official and the Hamas official spoke on condition of anonymity because the indirect talks are still ongoing.

The proposal, according to the Egyptian official, includes an initial cease-fire of six to eight weeks during which Hamas would release elderly hostages, women and children in return for hundreds of Palestinians jailed by Israel.

Throughout that phase, negotiations would continue on prolonging the cease-fire and releasing more prisoners and hostages. Israel would allow the number of aid trucks to entering Gaza would increase to up to 300 daily — from a few dozen currently — and let displaced Gaza residents gradually return to their homes in the north, according to the proposal.

Hamas and other militants captured about 250 hostages during their deadly Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that triggered the war. They continue to hold dozens of captives, after more than 100 were released during a one-week truce in November, in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Since Israel's offensive began, more than 27,000 Palestinians have been killed and 66,000 wounded, according to claims by the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza. The conflict has also left vast swaths of the tiny coastal enclave leveled and displaced 85% of its population.

As the war nears the four-month mark, fighting continued in the southern city of Khan Younis. The Israeli military said Friday that its efforts focused on fighters, weapons and infrastructure in the city, a key target of Israel's ground offensive in recent weeks.