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Negotiators are working on an Israel-Hamas cease-fire deal. Here's what to know

Israeli soldiers sit on an artillery unit near the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, in Netivot, Israel, Oct. 22, 2023.
Amir Levy
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Getty Images
Israeli soldiers sit on an artillery unit near the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, in Netivot, Israel, Oct. 22, 2023.

TEL AVIV, Israel — Mediators are meeting in Paris Friday to negotiate a potential deal for a pause in the fighting in Gaza. Officials are signaling there has been progress toward an agreement.

Senior Hamas leaders including Ismail Haniyeh and Khalil al-Haya held talks with mediators in Cairo earlier this week. Egyptian security officials close to the talks tell NPR that Hamas is prepared to accept a six-week pause in fighting, and to free some of the Israeli hostages it is holding in exchange for Israel freeing Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

The Egyptian officials with knowledge of the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details amid sensitive, ongoing negotiations, tell NPR that Hamas has agreed to a number of conditions. These include:

  • Hamas is no longer demanding an immediate truce, but is open to negotiating one before the start of Ramadan around March 10.

  • Hamas is not demanding that Israel fully withdraw from the Gaza Strip at this point.

  • Hamas has lowered the number of Palestinian prisoners it wants Israel to release in exchange for some of the 134 Israeli hostages its militants still have. According to the Egyptian officials, some prisoners serving life sentences on alleged terrorism charges will be among the 3,000 Palestinian prisoners to be exchanged for 50 of the civilian Israeli hostages.


The deal will likely include three phases, starting with the six-week period, which could be extended pending Israel's agreement, the Egyptian officials said. If extended, more Palestinian detainees would be freed and Hamas would release Israeli soldiers held captive.

Protesters , in front of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, hold torches during a march demanding the release of hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Feb. 19 in Jerusalem, Israel.
Amir Levy / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Protesters in front of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, hold torches during a march demanding the release of hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Feb. 19 in Jerusalem.

Egyptian intelligence officials are expected in Paris Friday, where they'll meet with officials from the U.S., Qatar and Israel, which is also sending a delegation Friday to discuss the latest outlines of a deal.

Brett McGurk, the Biden administration's top Middle East adviser, has also been meeting with Egyptian and Israeli officials. The U.S. wants more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza as part of any deal.

During a six-week truce, Egyptian officials say Israel would be required to facilitate the entry of much greater amounts of aid into the Gaza Strip, where the World Food Program has warned that people are facing the risk of famine if food distribution isn't dramatically ramped up.

The WFP has paused aid deliveries to northern Gaza over security issues. According to UNRWA, the U.N. agency that aids Palestinians, Gaza has been getting less than half the truck loads of aid needed to maintain the basic needs of Gaza residents since the start of the war. UNICEF, the U.N. agency advocating for the protection of children, says thatthousands of children in Gaza are acutely malnourished.

Israel has rejected demands to withdraw its troops from Gaza, but as part of a deal, it could withdraw troops from city centers, allowing for humanitarian aid to reach people who need it most, particularly in the north and Gaza City.

There's urgency to pause fighting before Ramadan

The outlines of the deal to be discussed in Paris stem from a proposal floated by Egypt several weeks ago. That proposal envisions the war ending and hostages released over three phases that build on one another, leading to a permanent cease-fire, reconstruction of Gaza and the formation of a technocratic, interim Palestinian government comprised of various factions to oversee administration of Gaza.

Akram Atallah, a Palestinian political analyst based in London, believes "Hamas understands they can not control Gaza again. The field developments have given both the Palestinians and the international community some path towards reaching a political answer to this." However, he says, "this is up to the Palestinians" to decide who will govern them.

Israel insists that the more than 1 million Palestinians displaced to the south, however, would not be permitted to return north until the final stages of any deal, according to the Egyptian officials familiar with the talks.

Palestinians perform Friday noon prayers at the Al-Hoda mosque, destroyed in Israeli bombardment in mid-February, after worshipers cleared rubble to make space for praying, in Rafah, the Gaza Strip, Feb. 23.
Mohammed Abed / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Palestinians perform Friday noon prayers at the Al-Hoda mosque, destroyed in Israeli bombardment in mid-February, after worshipers cleared rubble to make space for praying, in Rafah, the Gaza Strip, Friday.

There's urgency to pause fighting before the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a sensitive time for Muslims that begins this year around March 10. Israel warned earlier this week that if the hostages are not released by then, it would not rule out launching a full-scale offensive during the holy month into the town of Rafah, on the border with Egypt, where it says many Hamas fighters are still holding out, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians.

"The only Palestinian interest [is] in a cease-fire now," says Atallah. "Everything else comes next."

If agreed upon, this would be the second cease-fire deal since a previous week-long cease-fire ended on Dec. 1.

The war started after Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israel and killed 1,200 people on Oct. 7. They also kidnapped 240. At least 29,410 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's military response, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Netanyahu's vision for the "day after"

Late on Thursday, Netanyahu presented a document to his Cabinet called "The Day After Hamas" — a series of ideas the Israeli prime minister aims to implement once the war is over.

Among them are Israel maintaining indefinite free military operations in Gaza and a buffer zone inside Gaza along the fence separating Israel and Gaza.

An Israeli army vehicle moves along the border with Gaza on Feb. 1, 2024 in Southern Israel.
Amir Levy / Getty Images
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Getty Images
An Israeli army vehicle moves along the border with Gaza in southern Israel on Feb. 1.

Gershon Baskin, an Israeli activist and former hostage negotiator, says this would be a "tragic reality for Israel."

"Essentially what Netanyahu is saying is that Israel will stay in Gaza, which is a guaranteed path to armed insurgency against re-occupying of Gaza by Israel," Baskin says. "That's the bottom line: We're talking about re-occupation."

That's dangerous, he says, because "the longer Israel stays in Gaza, the more support Hamas will have. This is not brain surgery ... this is well known any place in the world where there is occupation and armed militants."

Although short on specifics, Netanyahu's plan also prioritizes some kind of containment along Gaza's southern border with Egypt in order to stop smuggling and "terror actors" from entering the Gaza Strip. It's unclear whether Israeli forces would be present in such a zone.

As for postwar governance of Gaza, the plan mentions that "local authorities with management experience" should take charge and "must not be identified with states or bodes that support terror or receive compensation from terrorist organizations."

Speaking at a news conference in Argentina on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that while he's seen reports of the plan, he hadn't read it himself and so he did not comment on the specifics.

He did, however, reiterate a key U.S. position, saying, "There certain basic principles that we set out many months ago that we feel are very important when it comes to Gaza's future, including that it cannot be a platform for terrorism. There should be no Israeli reoccupation of Gaza." Also, he said, "The size of Gaza's territory should not be reduced. So we want to make sure that any plan that emerges is consistent with those principles."

The plan also asks to shut down operations of UNRWA, repeating Israel's allegations that members of its staff were involved in the Oct. 7 attacks. The plan proposes that this U.N. agency would be replaced "with other international aid organizations."

In a statement responding to the plan, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said: "Gaza will only be part of the independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Any plans other than that are doomed to failure, and Israel will not succeed in its attempts to change the geographical and demographic reality in the Gaza Strip."

Abbas presides over the Palestinian Authority, which operates in parts of the West Bank but not the Gaza Strip.

Rudeineh's statement also calls for an independent Palestinians state, a notion gaining support among Western countries, including the U.S., and one which Netanyahu vehemently opposes.

D. Parvaz reported in Tel Aviv. Aya Batrawy reported from Dubai. Abu Bakr Bashir contributed to this report from London.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

D. Parvaz
D. Parvaz is an editor at Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, she worked at several news organizations covering wildfires, riots, earthquakes, a nuclear meltdown, elections, political upheaval and refugee crises in several countries.
Aya Batrawy
Aya Batrawy is an NPR International Correspondent. She leads NPR's Gulf bureau in Dubai.