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Hamas agrees to US-brokered talks on Israeli hostages

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Hamas has accepted a U.S. proposal to commence negotiations aimed at the release of Israeli hostages, including soldiers and civilians, 16 days following the initial phase of an agreement to end the prolonged Gaza war.

A senior source within Hamas disclosed this development to Reuters on Saturday, marking a potential breakthrough in the conflict that has gripped the region for over nine months.

The Islamist militant group has notably retracted its previous demand for Israel to commit to a permanent ceasefire prior to signing any agreement. Instead, Hamas has agreed to allow negotiations over a six-week period to achieve a lasting ceasefire, the source revealed under the condition of anonymity due to the confidential nature of the talks.

An official close to the international peace efforts highlighted that this proposal could pave the way for a framework agreement, provided it receives Israel’s endorsement. Such an agreement would aim to bring an end to the devastating war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Indicating a shift in stance, a member of Israel’s negotiating team, also speaking anonymously, acknowledged the potential for reaching an agreement. This is a stark contrast to previous occasions throughout the nine-month conflict, where Israel dismissed Hamas’s conditions as untenable.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has yet to comment, adhering to the Jewish Sabbath. However, a statement on Friday noted that discussions would resume next week, emphasizing that significant gaps still need bridging.

The conflict, ignited by a deadly Hamas assault on southern Israeli cities on October 7, has resulted in over 38,000 Palestinian fatalities, as reported by Gaza health officials. The attack claimed 1,200 Israeli lives and led to the capture of approximately 250 hostages, based on Israeli government statistics.

The new U.S. proposal guarantees that mediators will oversee a temporary ceasefire, facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries, and ensure the withdrawal of Israeli troops as long as indirect negotiations continue to implement the second phase of the agreement, according to the Hamas source.

Diplomatic efforts have ramped up recently, with active mediation by Washington, Israel, and Qatar, the latter spearheading the negotiations from Doha, where Hamas’s exiled leadership is based. A regional insider mentioned that the U.S. administration is particularly eager to secure a deal before the upcoming presidential election in November.

Prime Minister Netanyahu noted on Friday that the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency had returned from an initial meeting with mediators in Qatar, signaling that negotiations are set to proceed in the coming week.

This development has sparked cautious optimism among international observers and stakeholders, who hope that this could be the first step towards a comprehensive and lasting peace in the region.

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