CAIRO (AP) — Israel and Hamas are inching toward a new deal that would free some of the roughly 130 hostages held in the Gaza Strip in exchange for a weekslong pause in the war, now in its fifth month.

U.S. President Joe Biden says a deal could go into effect as early as Monday, ahead of what is seen as an unofficial deadline — the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, around March 10.

A deal would bring some respite to desperate people in Gaza, who have borne a staggering toll, as well as to the anguished families of Israeli hostages taken during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war.

A tent camp housing Palestinians displaced by the Israeli offensive is seen in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Feb. 27, 2024.
A tent camp housing Palestinians displaced by the Israeli offensive is seen in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Feb. 27, 2024.

Hatem Ali via Associated Press

Here is a look at the emerging agreement.

OUTLINE OF THE DEAL

According to a senior official from Egypt, a six-week cease-fire would go into effect, and Hamas would agree to free up to 40 hostages — mostly civilian women, at least two children, and older and sick captives. Israel would release at least 300 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, the official said.

Israel would also allow displaced Palestinians to return to certain areas in northern Gaza, which was the first target of Israel’s ground offensive and suffered widespread destruction, according to the official from Egpyt, which is mediating the deal along with the U.S. and Qatar.

The Egyptian official said aid deliveries would be ramped up during the cease-fire, with 300 to 500 trucks entering the beleaguered territory per day, far more than the daily average number of trucks entering since the start of the war.

The deliveries to areas across Gaza would be facilitated by Israel, whose forces would refrain from attacks on them and on police escorting the aid convoys, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the talks with journalists.

STICKING POINTS

Despite Biden’s optimism, both sides continue to posture ahead of any final agreement even as talks continue in Qatar. Both Israeli and Hamas officials downplayed any sense of progress.

Israel and Hamas have been far apart on their terms for a deal in the past, dragging out negotiations that appeared to have momentum.

Israel wants all female soldiers included in the first phase of hostage releases, according to an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing talks. Hamas views all soldiers as more significant bargaining chips and is likely to press back on this demand. The Egyptian official said the female soldiers were at this point being held off until after the first release.

The Egyptian official said the sides also are discussing how many Palestinians would be allowed to return to northern Gaza and whether to limit their return to women and men over 50.

Talks are also pinning down which areas of Gaza that Israel would withdraw troops from, the Egyptian official said, adding that Israel wants Hamas to refrain from using those it left as staging grounds for attacks. It also wants Hamas to stop firing rockets at southern Israel. Hamas has so far rejected both demands, the official said.

The emerging deal leaves a door open for Israel to operate in the southern border town of Rafah once it expires. More than half of Gaza’s population has fled to the southern city on the Egyptian border. Israel wants to destroy what it says are the few Hamas battalions left standing there.

WHAT REMAINS TO BE NEGOTIATED?

During the temporary cease-fire, both sides would negotiate toward an extension of the deal that the Egyptian official said would include the release of all the female soldiers in exchange for a higher number of imprisoned Palestinians, including those serving long sentences for deadly attacks.

After the female soldiers, Israel will seek to free male soldiers for whom Hamas will likely demand a high price. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed not to agree to a deal at any cost. But the families of the hostages, whose plight has deeply shaken Israelis, are likely to ramp up pressure if others are freed.

The U.S. hopes the new deal will be a launching pad for implementing its vision for a postwar Gaza that would eventually lead to the creation of a Palestinian state. It wants Gaza to be governed by a revamped Palestinian Authority, which administers part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. On Monday, it took a first step that could usher in U.S.-backed reforms by disbanding the self-rule government.

Israel wants to retain overall security control in the Gaza Strip and has rejected having world powers impose a state on it.

Goldenberg reported from Jerusalem. Josef Federman also contributed from Jerusalem.

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