US proposes hostage-to-prisoner ratio in Gaza truce talks: Israeli official


The United States has made a “bridging proposal” for the number of jailed Palestinians that should be released by Israel in exchange for every hostage freed by Hamas in any new Gaza truce, an Israeli official briefed on the Qatar-hosted talks said on Saturday.

An Israeli delegation led by Mossad chief David Barnea is in Doha for indirect negotiations with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which CIA director William Burns is helping Qatari and Egyptian officials to mediate.

“During the negotiations, significant gaps came to light on the question of the ratio” of prisoners to be released for each hostage, said an Israeli official, who requested anonymity.

“The United States put a bridging proposal on the table, to which Israel responded positively. Hamas’ response is pending.”

The official provided no details on the U.S. proposal.

The U.S. embassy in Israel did not immediately comment. The sides have previously said that, if a deal is reached, Israel would suspend its Gaza offensive for six weeks and recover 40 of 130 hostages still held by Hamas from an Oct. 7 cross-border rampage that triggered the war. Under a previous truce, in late November, Israel released three jailed Palestinians, most of them young and accused of relatively light offences, for every hostage freed by Hamas.

Both sides anticipate that Hamas will now seek the release of a larger number of more senior Palestinian militants.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters that Israel was to blame for the failure to reach an agreement because it has so far refused to commit to ending the military offensive, pull out its forces from the Gaza Strip, and allow the displaced to return to their homes in northern Gaza Strip.

“What America and the occupation want is to regain the captives without a commitment to end the aggression, which means the resumption of war, killing and destruction and we can’t accept that,” said Abu Zuhri.

The Hamas armed wing said on Saturday that an Israeli hostage had died due to “lack of medicine and food”.

Israeli officials have generally declined to respond to such announcements, accusing Hamas of psychological warfare. But Israel has itself declared 35 of the hostages dead in captivity.

Two Palestinian officials close to the mediation said a Gaza truce deal was not imminent. One of them told Reuters that Israel was to blame for hold-ups, but did not detail these.

Hamas wants any ceasefire to include an Israeli commitment to end the war and withdraw forces from Gaza. Israel has ruled this out, saying it will eventually press the campaign to dismantle Hamas.

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