The U.S. is discussing with Israel and Qatar a proposal for a pause in fighting in Gaza of up to three days that would allow for the delivery of more humanitarian aid and the possible release of some hostages held by Hamas, according to two foreign diplomats and a U.S. official.
Qatar, acting as an intermediary, has held talks with Hamas for weeks about a possible pause in Gaza but a final agreement has proved elusive. Israeli officials have said Hamas must first release all of the roughly 240 hostages it is holding before they will agree to a cease-fire.
A senior Arab source familiar with the discussions said there was hope that a deal could still be reached and said: “We are at a critical stage of the negotiations.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday his government would consider “tactical little pauses” in the military campaign in Gaza, but he has said there could be no broader cease-fire.
Until now, Israel has remained reluctant to ease military pressure on Hamas in any way or to be drawn into a series of temporary pauses in combat without firm guarantees about the safety and freedom of the hostages held in Gaza, foreign diplomats said. The Biden administration has so far been unable to persuade Israel to agree to pauses in the fighting in Gaza, as Israel continues to pursue an air and ground offensive against Hamas.
A pause of one to three days could enable the release of a small group of hostages, possibly 10 to 15, which then would allow Hamas to gather details of the identities and locations of all the hostages to secure the release of dozens more, a diplomat briefed on the matter said.
A one-to-three day humanitarian pause in exchange for the release of hostages is one of many proposals that have been discussed, a U.S. official said. A pause of any significant duration on the part of the Israelis would require Hamas to release a substantial number of hostages, the official added.
As of last week, Hamas’ military wing accepted the terms of a possible humanitarian pause, but Israel rejected the proposal, according to a senior Arab diplomat.
A senior administration official told NBC News that “we continue to talk to the Israelis about humanitarian pauses.”
“In order to get the bulk of the hostages out, you’re going to need more than one" pause "and more than a couple of hours,” the senior administration official said.
Last week, a separate senior Biden administration official told reporters that a “fairly significant pause” would be needed to organize the logistics of the release of dozens of hostages.
The administration says the precise number of hostages held in Gaza remains unknown. Hamas has refused requests by the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the hostages.
Axios first reported about a proposed three-day humanitarian pause.
Hamas took Israeli and foreign hostages during its Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israel in which militants killed some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, according to government figures.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in Gaza, many of them children, in the Israeli bombing campaign, according to its Health Ministry.