American-led negotiators are edging closer to an agreement in which Israel would suspend its war in Gaza for about two months in exchange for the release of more than 100 hostages still held by Hamas, a deal that could be sealed in the next two weeks and would transform the conflict consuming the region.
Negotiators have developed a written draft agreement merging proposals offered by Israel and Hamas in the last 10 days into a basic framework that will be the subject of talks in Paris on Sunday. While there are still important disagreements to be worked out, negotiators are cautiously optimistic that a final accord is within reach, according to U.S. officials who insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive talks.
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The hostages have been in captivity since Oct. 7, when Hamas gunmen stormed into Israel and killed an estimated 1,200 people and seized about 240 more in the worst terrorist attack in the country’s history. Israel’s military retaliation since then has killed more than 25,000 people, most of them women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry. It is not clear how many of those killed in Gaza were Hamas combatants.
The short-lived truce in November, brokered by Mr. Biden along with Qatar and Egypt, resulted in a seven-day pause in the fighting in exchange for the release of more than 100 hostages by Hamas and about 240 Palestinian prisoners and detainees held by Israel. About 136 people seized on Oct. 7 remain unaccounted for, including six American citizens, although about two dozen of those are presumed to be dead.
The deal now coming together would be more expansive in scope than the previous one, officials say. In the first phase, fighting would stop for about 30 days while women, elderly and wounded hostages were released by Hamas. During that period, the two sides would work out details of a second phase that would suspend military operations for roughly another 30 days in exchange for Israeli soldiers and male civilians being held. The ratio of Palestinians to be released from Israeli prisons is still to be negotiated but that is viewed as a solvable issue. The deal would also allow for more humanitarian aid into Gaza.
While the agreement would not be the permanent cease-fire that Hamas has demanded for the release of all hostages, officials close to the talks believe that if Israel halts the war for two months, it would likely not resume it in the same way that it has waged it until now. The truce would provide a window for further diplomacy that could lead to a broader resolution of the conflict.
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Two days later, the president sent Mr. McGurk to the region, where he met with Gen. Abbas Kamel, the chief of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service and the nation’s second most powerful official, as well as Sheikh Mohammed of Qatar. The talks were complicated when Israeli media played a tape apparently of Mr. Netanyahu privately calling Qatar’s role as mediator “problematic” because of its relationship to Hamas, prompting Qatar to call the remarks “irresponsible and destructive.”
Mr. McGurk returned to Washington on Friday and met with Mr. Biden in the Oval Office along with Mr. Burns and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who has also been traveling in the region. With his advisers next to him, Mr. Biden then separately called President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and Sheikh Mohammed.
“They affirmed that all efforts must now be made to conclude a deal that would result in the release of all hostages together with a prolonged humanitarian pause in the fighting,” the White House said in its summary of the call with Mr. Sisi.
Peter Baker is the chief White House correspondent for The Times. He has covered the last five presidents and sometimes writes analytical pieces that place presidents and their administrations in a larger context and historical framework. More about Peter Baker.
View this New York Times Report from January 27th