Hamas agrees to proposal on talks to free Israeli hostages 16 days after first phase, Hamas source says

DUBAI/CAIRO (Reuters) -Hamas has accepted a U.S. proposal to begin talks on releasing Israeli hostages, including soldiers and men, 16 days after the first phase of an agreement aimed at ending the Gaza war, a senior Hamas source said on Saturday.

The militant Islamist group has dropped a demand that Israel first commit to a permanent ceasefire before signing the agreement, and would allow negotiations to achieve that throughout a first six-week phase, the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

A Palestinian official close to the internationally mediated peace efforts had said the proposal could lead to a framework agreement if embraced by Israel and would end the nine-month-old war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

The conflict has claimed the lives of more than 38,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials. The war erupted after Hamas attacked southern Israeli cities on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 hostages.

The Hamas source said the proposal ensures that mediators would guarantee a temporary ceasefire, aid delivery and withdrawal of Israeli troops as long as indirect talks continue to implement the second phase of the agreement.

(Reporting by Samia Nakhoul, and Muhammad Al Gebaly; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and William Mallard)

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