Hamas has responded to a ceasefire proposal backed by Israel and the U.S. with a counteroffer of its own in which hostages would be released in exchange for Israel completely withdrawing from Gaza and satisfying other demands, including negotiating an end to the war.
The Hamas counterproposal, details of which were first reported by Reuters, sets out a plan of three distinct 45-day stages. By the end of the final stage, an agreement would need to have been reached for a permanent ceasefire—something which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far ruled out, vowing instead to deliver a complete victory over Hamas.
In the first proposed 45-day pause in fighting, certain groups of hostages that Hamas captured during its Oct. 7 attacks in southern Israel would be released. All Israeli women captives would be freed along with males under the age of 19. All elderly and sick hostages would also be released. In exchange, Israel would be expected to free Palestinian women and children from its jails.
The Hamas plan also calls for humanitarian aid to be increased and for hospitals and refugee camps to be rebuilt. Israeli forces would also have to be moved out of populated areas during the first phase and indirect discussions must begin about the requirements necessary for both sides to stop fighting and “restore complete calm.”
Male hostages not freed in the first stage would be released during the second, and the remains of captives who died while in Hamas’ custody in Gaza would be handed over throughout the third. Hamas says an agreement for the war’s end should also be in place by the end of the final stage.
The militant group also said in an addendum that it wants 1,500 prisoners to be released, a third of whom it gets to select from a list of Palestinians sentenced to life in prison by Israel.
Hamas’ counteroffer comes in response to a proposal delivered last week by Egyptian and Qatari mediators as part of major diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently in the Middle East and said he would discuss the proposal during meetings with Israeli officials Wednesday. President Joe Biden on Tuesday said Hamas’ offer “seems to be a little over the top,” and that negotiations remained ongoing.
Israel has not yet publicly responded to the offer. Prime Minister Netanyahu last week said that while he is working to bring the hostages home, he would not agree to a new release deal “at any price.” He specifically laid out several “red lines,” according to The Times of Israel, all of which Hamas is now asking him to cross. “We will not end the war, we will not pull the IDF out of the Strip, we will not release thousands of terrorists,” Netanyahu said.