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CIA director presented new proposal for Gaza ceasefire and hostage deal

Originally Published: 08 APR 24 13:51 ET

Updated: 08 APR 24 17:48 ET

By Alex Marquardt and Mostafa Salem, CNN

(CNN) — CIA Director Bill Burns presented a new proposal to try to bridge the gaps in ongoing negotiations to broker a deal to bring about a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and the release of the Israeli hostages held by the group, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

The latest US proposal was made in Cairo over the weekend and includes pushing Israel to release a higher number of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the expected 40 Israeli hostages who would be freed during the first phase of a three-stage ceasefire deal.

A second source, a diplomat, said the US proposal is for Israel to release 900 Palestinian prisoners in the first phase of a deal. Prior to this round of talks, CNN had reported that negotiators had discussed the release of around 700 Palestinian prisoners, including many with life sentences.

Qatari, Egyptian and Israeli officials, along with Burns, were in Cairo over the weekend for the negotiations. Hamas also met officials from Egypt’s Intelligence Service in Cairo, Egyptian state media said.

The US would also like Palestinian residents of northern Gaza who have fled south to be allowed to return home to the north without restrictions, the source said.

So far, Israel has rejected the Hamas demands of an unrestricted return of Gazans to the north and the redeployment of IDF troops away from central Gaza. Israel has insisted on inspections of Palestinians moving north, a diplomat familiar with the talks told CNN.

On those two thorny points the sides are still “way off,” the diplomat said. “We’re not anticipating resolving these issues in the next couple of days.”

Earlier on Monday, Al Jazeera reported that the latest proposal put to Israel and Hamas included the release of 900 Palestinian prisoners.

Everyone agreed to study the new US proposal, the first source said, and it will be communicated to Hamas leadership in Gaza which ultimately makes the decisions for the group. Given the difficulties of communicating with Hamas leaders who are believed to be hiding in Gaza’s vast underground tunnel system, getting a response can take several days.

A senior Hamas official speaking to CNN said the group will return to Cairo “as soon as the opportunity presents itself,” but could not place a firm timeframe on when that would happen.

The official added that the latest proposals presented by Israel during the talks in Egypt did not address the unrestricted movement of Palestinians in the south to the north – a key demand for the group.

“The [Israeli] proposal does not respond to the questions that [Hamas] has asked in its original proposal, and that is that any agreement should clearly include a ceasefire, a complete withdrawal of [Israeli] troops – even if it happens through stages – and the return of the displaced in complete freedom to their homes,” the official told CNN.

Israeli negotiators have shown a willingness in recent weeks to negotiate the return of Palestinians to northern Gaza but have continued to insist on some degree of security oversight by Israeli forces along the so-called Netzarim corridor which cuts across the middle of Gaza and a limited number of people moving north per day.

Mediators have been trying for months to seal an agreement between Hamas and Israel for a ceasefire and the release of hostages. But the prolonged negotiation has been marred by disagreements.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he’d been updated on the negotiations but underlined his determination to send troops into Rafah, saying he’d set a date for the operation in a video released on his Telegram account. The US has set out its opposition to such a move.

“Today I received a detailed report on the talks in Cairo. We are constantly working to achieve our goals, primarily the release of all our hostages and achieving a complete victory over Hamas. This victory requires entry into Rafah and the elimination of the terrorist battalions there. It will happen, there is a date,” Netanyahu said.

Earlier, a Qatari representative voiced optimism about the state of the talks.

“We are by no means at the last stretch of these talks, but if you ask me if I am more optimistic today than I was a couple of days ago, then I would say yes,” Qatar’s foreign ministry’s spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari told the BBC. Ansari said mediators are waiting for replies from Hamas and Israel over proposals from different parties, including the United States.

“I can’t go into the details of these proposals, but I can tell you it bridges the gap in a way that hasn’t been done in the last couple of months,” Ansari said.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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