Hamas makes formal offer for hostage deal and truce; Netanyahu rejects demands as ‘still absurd’
At Tel Aviv’s Hostage Square, a pianist plays to reinforce those gathered that the hostages in Gaza will not be forgotten Feb. 22, 2024. (Photo: Sharon Wisch-Ray/TJP)

By Philissa Cramer
March 15, 2024

(JTA) — Hamas has issued a formal counter-proposal in ongoing talks over a temporary ceasefire and hostage deal in its war with Israel, giving hope for the first time in weeks that more Israelis taken hostage on Oct. 7 could be released and that the fighting could pause.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met with family members of about 20 hostages on Thursday night, said the terror group was making “ridiculous demands,” leaving wide-open questions about whether progress in negotiations would continue.

“For the first time, we can envision embracing them again,” the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, a group created to lobby for the captives, said in a statement about their loved ones. “Please grant us this right.”

The counter-proposal comes after weeks of tense negotiations in which both Israeli and Hamas officials have expressed pessimism about reaching an agreement. Under the terms that Hamas has outlined, the group would release hostages who are women, children, elderly and sick in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli prisons, including 100 who have been convicted of murder. The women to be released would include soldiers, marking a change in Hamas’ stance.

To release the remaining male hostages, whom Hamas considers combatants regardless of whether they were captured while serving in the military, the proposal says Israel would have to commit to a permanent ceasefire, withdraw from Gaza and release all of the Palestinian security prisoners it holds.

Netanyahu rejected the terms as “still absurd” during a meeting of his war cabinet on Friday. He also said the Israeli army would continue to prepare for a planned invasion of Rafah, the southern Gaza city that has become a refuge to nearly 1.5 million Palestinians including, Israeli officials say, members and leaders of Hamas.

Israeli officials believe there are 134 people being held hostage in Gaza, all but a handful taken prisoner on Oct. 7, and most of them remain alive. More than 100 hostages — nearly all of them women and children — were released during a 10-day truce in November. Since then, Hamas has not released any other hostages. The Israeli army rescued two  hostages and unintentionally killed three, while dozens of others have been revealed to have died on Oct. 7 or since.

Leave a Reply