Israel set to send negotiators to Paris for Gaza ceasefire and hostage release talks

Hamas reportedly willing to accept release of 3,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for end to war that has killed some 29,000

Israel is expected to send representatives to Paris for weekend talks with international mediators on a new ceasefire in Gaza and hostage release deal, after indications that Hamas has compromised on a draft framework.

Citing Egyptian officials, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that Hamas was willing to accept the release of 3,000 Palestinian prisoners including a number of militants who took part in attacks in which Israelis were killed, in return for the hostages seized on October 7th.

The WSJ also reported that Hamas was demanding that discussion of a permanent ceasefire begin at the start of an initial six-week truce, during which women, elderly and hostages in ill health will be set free. Hamas insists it will only release the rest of the hostages in exchange for an end to the war.

The parties are aiming to have a deal finalised before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in three weeks’ time.


Senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk said he believed a new agreement was possible and that there could be a breakthrough in the negotiations in the near future. He said an end of the Israeli military operation and the return of displaced residents to northern Gaza would be conditions for such a deal.

More than 29,000 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Israel says 1,200 people were killed in the surprise Hamas attack on October 7th and more than 250 kidnapped, 134 of whom are still in Gaza.

Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday told visiting US official Brett McGurk – the man spearheading the hostage negotiations – that Israel “will expand the authority given to our hostage negotiators” while at the same time “preparing the continuation of intense ground operations”.

He stressed the importance of dismantling the remaining Hamas battalions in central and southern Gaza, despite US pressure not to conduct a major assault on Rafah on the Egyptian border, where more than a million war refugees have sought refuge.

A flurry of seven Israeli strikes hit Rafah early on Thursday, one of them flattening a large mosque and devastating much of the surrounding block.

Footage from the scene showed al-Farouq Mosque pancaked to the ground, with its concrete domes tumbled around it and nearby buildings shattered.

Another strike hit a residential home in Rafah sheltering the al-Shaer family, killing at least four people, including a mother and her child.

Strikes in central Gaza overnight killed 44 people, including 14 children and eight women, according to hospital officials.

Meanwhile, Israel is seeking local merchants and civil society leaders in Gaza neighbourhoods to replace Hamas in distributing humanitarian aid. An Israeli official explained that the planned “humanitarian pockets” would be in districts where Hamas had already been defeated.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri described the plan as tantamount to Israel reoccupying Gaza, saying it was doomed to fail.

Fighting continues on Israel’s northern border. Three people were killed when an Israeli drone hit a building close to the Lebanese city of Nabatieh. The fatalities reportedly included a senior commander of Hizbullah’s Radwan strike force.

Far-right Israeli ministers demanded new settlement construction and separate roads in the occupied West Bank for settlers and Palestinians after three Palestinian gunmen opened fire on cars travelling between the Ma’ale Adumim settlement and Jerusalem during Thursday morning’s rush hour. One settler was killed along with the three gunmen and 13 other people were injured in the attack.

Israel’s Arrow defence system successfully intercepted an inbound missile heading for the Red Sea resort of Eilat, hours after the US military said it had targeted Houthi sites in Yemen.

A report published by the Association of Rape Crisis Centres in Israel determined that Israeli civilians and soldiers suffered “brutal sexual assaults” that were carried out “systematically and deliberately” during the Hamas attack. The report, which included testimonies from eyewitnesses, first responders and forensic experts, determined that Hamas militants who entered Israel used extreme acts of sexual violence against their victims and, in most cases, killed them “after or even during the rape”.

Hamas denied the allegations.

Foreign ministers at the G20 group of nations meeting in Brazil were nearly unanimous in their support for a two-state solution as the only path to peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Brazilian minister hosting the event said on Thursday.

“There was virtual unanimity in the two-state solution as the only solution to the conflict,” Brazil’s foreign minister, Mauro Vieira, said at the close of the two-day meeting.

There were calls for a ceasefire and access to Gaza for humanitarian aid, while “many” countries criticised Israel’s military offensive in Rafah, he said.

The head of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that medical teams in the Gaza Strip have come up with a new acronym: WCNSF – wounded child, no surviving family.

“Children who do survive this war will not only bear the visible wounds of traumatic injuries, but the invisible ones too,” MSF International secretary general Christopher Lockyear told the 15-member council.

“There is a repeated displacement, constant fear and witnessing family members literally dismembered before their eyes,” he said. “These psychological injuries have led children as young as five to tell us that they would prefer to die.” – Additional reporting agencies

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Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem