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Amid muted optimism, Israeli-Hamas talks resume, then adjourn again

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Israel and Hamas resumed indirect negotiations over a cease-fire and hostage-release deal in Gaza on Friday, after the Biden administration said Hamas had made “a pretty significant adjustment” in its position. But new amendments proposed to the framework agreement seemed to temper optimism that a deal was imminent, and the talks in Doha, Qatar, were adjourned until next week.

Among the new sticking points, according to a person familiar with the negotiations, were the transition from the first to the second phase of the proposed framework agreement announced by President Biden on May 31 and vaguely worded guarantees by the United States, Qatar and Egypt — the mediators of the talks — that the two sides would abide by a deal.

Other outstanding issues fall into the category of “implementation steps” that are considered negotiable once agreement is reached on the three-phase framework. But the framework itself — which a senior Biden administration official told reporters Wednesday “is now in place” — was again brought into question Friday, according to the person familiar with the talks, who like the administration official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.

Wednesday’s optimism was born of what the White House said after a telephone call between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “the recent response received from Hamas” to the U.S.-backed framework proposal, after weeks of silence. “What we got back from Hamas was a pretty significant adjustment to what had been their position, and we think that is encouraging,” the senior administration official said. “We have heard the same from the Israelis.”

The three-phase plan includes a six-week initial stage with a cease-fire and a surge in humanitarian aid. Israeli forces would withdraw from all populated areas, and female, elderly and wounded hostages held in Gaza would be exchanged for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. All remaining U.S. hostages would also be released.

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Assuming no violations occurred, the six-week cease-fire would continue indefinitely as the parties negotiated a second phase. It calls for agreement on a “permanent” truce, which would include a complete Israeli withdrawal and the release of remaining hostages. A third phase would begin internationally financed Gaza reconstruction, new Palestinian governance for the enclave and the eventual establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

The “significant adjustment” in Hamas’s position, as described by the person familiar with the talks, was dropping its insistence that Israel commit, in writing, to an eventual, permanent cease-fire as part of Phase 2 before the beginning of the first phase. “Their whole position has been that they won’t agree to anything until all is agreed in advance,” the person said.

But in Friday’s talks, the person said, Israel objected to indefinitely continuing the temporary, Phase 1 cease-fire while Phase 2 was negotiated, saying there should be a deadline for a permanent deal to be reached, lest Hamas use the time to regroup. If it passed without agreement, Israel would be free to resume its military operations in Gaza. While Israel has said it is scaling back its military operations in Gaza, it has said it plans to continue indefinitely with targeted attacks against Hamas leaders and reduced or residual Hamas forces.

While the transition question and the nature of any “guarantees” remained outstanding, other specific language changes were said to have brought the two sides closer to agreement on the deal.

The White House National Security Council, which has been coordinating the administration’s participation in the talks, declined to comment on any new developments in the talks.

Netanyahu’s office said late Friday that David Barnea, the head of Israel’s intelligence agency, had returned from Doha after an “initial” meeting with mediators. Another team will be dispatched next week to continue negotiations, the prime minister’s office said. “It should be emphasized that there are still gaps between the sides,” it added.

Plans for the “day after” the war have remained elusive, but the Palestinian Authority, which governs in the West Bank, has been put forth as a likely option to govern the Gaza Strip, a proposal that Israel has rejected.

The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, said at a conference in Madrid on Thursday that the Palestinian Authority in Gaza would “need to be empowered by some form of an international force that could come in under U.N. mandate.”

But Hamas on Friday denounced that idea, saying in a statement that it rejects “any statements and positions that support plans for foreign forces to enter the Strip under any name or justification.”

It added that the governance of the Gaza Strip is “a purely Palestinian affair.” The Palestinian people “will not allow any guardianship, or the imposition of any external solutions or equations,” Hamas said.

The Gaza developments came amid mounting fears that the already simmering front between Israel and Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon could soon explode.

Hasan Nasrallah, the head of Lebanon’s Iranian-backed militia and political party Hezbollah, met with Hezbollah leaders to discuss the situation in Gaza and the latest developments on the negotiations and cease-fire proposal, the movement’s Al-Manar outlet reported Friday.

Hezbollah on Thursday fired some 200 rockets into northern Israel in retaliation for Israel’s killing of one of the militant group’s senior commanders. The barrage was the biggest in a steadily escalating exchange of fire between the two sides since Oct. 7.

The United Nations said Friday it was “deeply concerned at the increase in the intensity of exchanges of fire across” the border the day prior, saying it “heightens the risk of a full-scale war. Escalation can and must be avoided.” The U.N. added that “the danger of miscalculation leading to a sudden and wider conflagration is real,” and that “a political and diplomatic solution is the only viable way forward.”

At least seven Palestinians were killed in an Israeli raid in the city of Jenin in the West Bank on Friday, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The Israel Defense Forces said the military was conducting “counterterrorism activity” after the death of an Israeli soldier during an operation there last week.

In a letter to Netanyahu, Israel’s attorney general accused National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir of blocking the transfer of Gazans still held at the notorious Israeli detention center, Sde Teiman. Last month, the IDF said it would turn detainees over to Israel’s prison authority in response to a high court hearing of a petition filed by rights groups that said alleged abuse and torture at the southern detention site could constitute war crimes.

Looters ransacked Khan Younis’s European Hospital days after Israel issued evacuation orders for the area near the hospital and patients and medical staff fled, according to Saleh al-Hams, head of the hospital’s nursing department. Hams said by phone that around 1,000 solar panels from the roof, 400 hospital beds, furniture from the hospital’s nursing college and toilets were taken. “The looters responsible for the theft are known, but there is no police force available to recover the stolen items, which are now being sold on the market,” he said.

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that further disruption to health services in Gaza is “imminent” because of “a severe lack” of fuel. Only 90,000 liters of fuel entered Gaza on Wednesday, he wrote on X on Thursday, while the health sector alone requires 80,000 liters per day.

At least 38,011 people have been killed and 87,445 injured in Gaza since the war started, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says the majority of the dead are women and children. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, including more than 300 soldiers, and it says 323 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operations in Gaza.

Hazem Balousha, Bryan Pietsch and Alon Rom contributed to this report.

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