Israel offers to suspend Rafah invasion if release of hostages and ceasefire deal is secured with Hamas

Israel offers to suspend Rafah invasion if release of hostages and ceasefire deal is secured with Hamas
  • PublishedApril 28, 2024

A planned incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah could be suspended should a deal emerge to secure the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, said Israel’s foreign minister. 

The comments came as international mediators push for a deal to achieve a ceasefire in the six months of fighting in Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages taken during Hamas’ October 7 assault that sparked the war.

The release of the hostages is the top priority for us,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz said during an interview with local media. 

Asked if that included putting off a planned operation to eliminate Hamas battalions in the city of Rafah, Katz answered, “Yes.”

He went on to say: “If there will be a deal, we will suspend the operation.”

Though Katz is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, he is not a member of the narrow-forum war cabinet overseeing the Gaza offensive.

Israel claims Rafah is home to four Hamas combat battalions reinforced by thousands of retreating fighters, and it must defeat them to achieve victory.

But Rafah, which abuts the Egyptian border, is sheltering more than a million Palestinians who fled the Israeli offensive through the rest of Gaza and say the prospect of fleeing yet again is terrifying.

Latest ceasefire proposal

Earlier on Saturday, Hamas said it had received Israel’s official response to its latest ceasefire proposal in Egyptian- and Qatari-mediated negotiations and will study it before submitting its reply.

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya gave no details of Israel’s offer, but said it was in response to a Hamas proposal two weeks ago.

A little girl walks past a house in Rafah destroyed by a missile. It is rubble and debris
Thousands of homes in the area of Rafah have been destroyed by airstrikes as the threat of a ground invasion looms. (Reuters: Mohammed Salem )

Negotiations earlier this month centred on a six-week cease-fire proposal and the release of 40 civilian and sick hostages in exchange for freeing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

A separate Hamas statement said leaders from the three main militant groups active in Gaza discussed attempts to end the war.

It didn’t mention the Israeli proposal.

The statements came hours after an Egyptian delegation ended a visit to Israel where it discussed a “new vision” for a prolonged cease-fire in Gaza, according to an Egyptian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss the developments.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Israel’s proposal was directly related to the visit.

The discussions between Egyptian and Israeli officials focused on the first stage of a plan that would include a limited exchange of hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners, and the return of a significant number of displaced Palestinians to their homes in northern Gaza “with minimum restrictions,” the Egyptian official said.

Mediators are working on a compromise that will answer most of both parties’ main demands, which could pave the way to continued negotiations with the goal of a deal to end the war, the official said.

Hamas has said it won’t back down from demands for a permanent cease-fire and full withdrawal of Israeli troops. Israel has rejected both and said it will continue military operations until Hamas is defeated and that it will retain a security presence in Gaza.

On Thursday, the United States and 17 other countries appealed to Hamas to release all of its hostages as a pathway to end the crisis.

Hamas wants to parlay any deal into a permanent end to the fighting — short of a formal peace — as the Islamist group is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Israel plans to pursue the war until Hamas’ governing and military capacities are dismantled.

More than 130 hostages are still being held in Gaza captivity, including women and children.

New video of Israeli hostages

As Hamas issued a new video showing two of the hostages pleading for their release and sending love to their families, thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv in protest, demanding that the government do more to secure their release.

The two men, identified as Keith Siegel, 64, and Omri Miran, 47, speak individually in front of an empty background.

They send their love to their families and ask to be released.

Miran was taken hostage from his home in the community of Nahal Oz in front of his wife and two young daughters during the Hamas killing spree that sparked the war in Gaza.

A man with dark eyebrows and a grey beard in a black t shirt in front of a grey background
Forty-seven-year-old Omri Miran was taken hostage from his home in the community of Nahal Oz in front of his wife and two young daughters on October 7. (Reuters: Hamas Military Wing)

Siegel, who is a dual US citizen, was taken captive with his wife from another border town.

She was later released during a brief November truce.

A man with balding grey hair and a grey beard in a black t shirt in front of grey background
Sixty-four-year-old Keith Siegel is a dual US citizen and was taken captive with his wife, who was later released. (Reuters: Hamas Military Wing)

The video was published during the Passover holiday, when Jews traditionally celebrate the biblical story of gaining freedom from slavery in Egypt.

At one point, Siegel breaks down crying as he recounts celebrating the holiday with his family last year and expressing his hope that they will be reunited.

The men seen in the video match photographs of Keith Samuel Siegel and Omri Miran showed by their relatives to Reuters after their kidnapping.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the location or date when the video was filmed.

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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