Hamas seeks release of key Palestinian leaders in response to proposal on hostage releases

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Jerusalem: A senior Hamas official said on Friday the group will respond “very soon” to a proposal that includes extended pauses in Gaza fighting and phased exchanges of Hamas-held hostages for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

Hamas and other militants in Gaza are holding dozens of hostages, after having abducted about 250 during their deadly October 7 attack on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and sparked Israel’s blistering offensive on the enclave. More than 100 hostages were released during a one-week truce in November, in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Over 27,000 people have been killed and 66,000 wounded by Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza, the territory’s Health Ministry said Thursday. The Health Ministry does not distinguish between civilian and combatant deaths, but says most of those killed were women and children.

Israel’s war in Gaza threatens to spill over into neighbouring countries, despite persistent efforts by top officials around the globe to tamp down regional tensions.

A senior Hamas official says his group is still studying a proposed multi-stage deal of prolonged pauses in Gaza fighting, accompanied by swaps of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners, but at the same time he appeared to rule out key components of the proposal.

Osama Hamdan said the release of all hostages, believed to number more than 100, will only be possible if Israel ends its war on Hamas in Gaza and releases the thousands of Palestinian security prisoners Israel is holding.

He singled out two prisoners by name, including Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences in Israel for his alleged role in several deadly attacks carried out a generation ago. Barghouti remains popular among Palestinians and is viewed as a unifying figure.

Hamdan said he believes his group holds enough hostages to be able to win the freedom of all prisoners serving sentences in Israeli prisons.

A priority is to win freedom for those serving life sentences, regardless of the groups they belong to. In addition to Barghouti, he named Ahmed Saadat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine as well as Hamas prisoners and those from the Islamic Jihad group.

Hamdan told Lebanon’s LBC TV that Hamas insists on a permanent cease-fire, rejecting the proposal’s staged approach, with several pauses in fighting.

“There is no way that this will be acceptable to the resistance,” he said.

“We have tried temporary truces and it turned out that the Israelis don’t respect these truces but always violate them,” Hamdan said in an apparent reference to a weeklong truce in November after which Israel resumed its offensive.

Hamdan said Hamas wants an end to the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip as well as promises for the reconstruction of the territory.


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