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Following months of back-and-forth as well as contradictory reports of an Israel-Hamas ceasefire, which has proven elusive thus far, the two sides and their mediators could actually be getting closer this weekend.

CIA director Bill Burns is set to embark on yet another trip to Doha this coming week to rejoin negotiations focused on achieving a hostage exchange and broader ceasefire, Axios is reporting.

Axios previews that “Burns is expected to hold a joint meeting with the Prime Minister of Qatar, the director of the Israeli Mossad and the head of the Egyptian intelligence service in an effort to push forward the deal that could lead to the release of 120 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and end nine months of war.”

Via AP

The below fresh report from The Times of Israel suggests Hamas may have just dropped a major demand which had previously thwarted any progress. From the start of negotiations, Hamas leaders have conditioned peace on an Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) total withdrawal from the Gaza Strip:

Hamas has given initial approval for a US-backed proposal for a phased truce and hostage exchange deal in Gaza, dropping a key demand that Israel give an up-front commitment for a complete end to the war, a Hamas and an Egyptian official said Saturday.

At the same time, a key stumbling block appeared to be Hamas’s desire for “written guarantees” from mediators that Israel will continue to negotiate a permanent ceasefire deal once the first phase of a ceasefire goes into effect.

The Hamas representative told The Associated Press the group’s approval came after it received “verbal commitments and guarantees” from mediators that the war won’t be resumed and that negotiations will continue until a permanent ceasefire is reached.

The report stresses that “Hamas says it dropped demand Israel vow up-front to end war, but wants mediators’ guarantees.” If true this could prove a major opening, given PM Netanyahu had long focused on this specific demand as being a non-starter, making progress in talks impossible.

If a deal is achieved, it could result in the first full ceasefire of the conflict. According to diplomatic sources involved:

The Hamas and Egyptian officials, who spoke on conditions of anonymity to discuss the ongoing negotiations, said Washington’s phased deal will first include a “full and complete” six-week ceasefire that would see the release of a number of hostages, including women, the elderly, and the wounded, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. During these 42 days, Israeli forces would also withdraw from densely populated areas of Gaza and allow the return of displaced people to their homes in northern Gaza, the pair said.

In the US, a deal would lessen intensifying pressure on the Biden White House, given it has been losing support especially among Progressives due precisely to the president’s Gaza policy.

Netanyahu is expected to travel to DC at the end of this month to address Congress, and so far media reports are saying it is ‘likely’ he will meet with President Biden. Any potential ceasefire deal would ease the pressure of such a visit, certainly from Washington’s point of view at least.

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