Hamas briefs Hezbollah on proposal for ceasefire, Hezbollah welcomes step, sources say

JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday ordered his spy chief to Qatar to negotiate with mediators for a ceasefire in the Gaza war so that Hamas militants would release hostages taken in the Oct. 7 attacks, sources said.

Amid renewed optimism about a possible breakthrough, Netanyahu called a meeting of his security cabinet late Thursday to discuss new Hamas proposals sent through Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

Israel believes dozens of hostages are still alive in Gaza and the war is taking an increasing toll in the devastated Palestinian territory, with both sides facing growing international pressure to reach a deal.

Mossad chief David Barnea was to lead an Israeli delegation to Qatar that has spent months trying to bring enemies to the negotiating table, according to a source with knowledge of the talks. He was expected in Doha on Friday to meet with the Gulf state’s prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

Barne’s delegation “is traveling to Qatar as part of continuing talks on a ceasefire and a hostage agreement.

“He will meet with the Qatari prime minister for discussions to bring the parties closer to the Gaza agreement,” the source said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the talks.

US President Joe Biden praised the decision to send the delegation in a telephone conversation with Netanyahu, the White House said. Biden welcomed the decision for Israeli negotiators to “engage” with mediators in an effort to “close a deal.”

The United States believes Israel and Hamas have a “fairly significant opening” to reach an agreement on a ceasefire and the release of hostages, a senior US official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Hamas proposal “moves the process forward and may provide the basis for a deal,” stressing that it did not mean a deal was likely in the coming days and that “significant work” remained.

Hamas has demanded an end to the war and an Israeli withdrawal as a prelude to any hostage deal.

Israel countered that the war could not end without the release of the hostages. Netanyahu has also repeatedly vowed that the Gaza campaign will not end until Hamas’ military and government capabilities are destroyed.

Hamas said late Wednesday that it had sent new “ideas” for a potential deal, and Netanyahu’s office said the government was “evaluating” them.

Qatar, Egypt and the United States have been mediators between the two sides, and sources close to their efforts said they have been trying to bridge the “gaps” between the enemies for several weeks.

In May, Biden announced a path to a cease-fire agreement that he said was proposed by Israel. This included a six-week ceasefire that allowed for talks, the release of hostages and, ultimately, a program to rebuild a devastated Gaza.

“There are important developments in the latest proposals with positive possibilities for both sides,” the diplomat said briefly of the latest proposals. “This time the Americans are very serious.”

The war began with an October 7 attack on southern Israel that killed 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Hamas militants also seized 251 hostages, of whom 116 remain in Gaza, including 42 dead, according to the army.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 38,011 people, also mostly civilians, according to health ministry figures in the Hamas-run territory.

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