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Netanyahu authorizes negotiators to enter detailed talks for ceasefire deal with Hamas

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has authorized his negotiators to enter into detailed negotiations to try and broker a ceasefire and hostage release deal with Hamas, an Israeli official and a source familiar with the negotiations said.

The decision signals that Israel and Hamas are entering a new phase of negotiations that could produce a final deal within a matter of weeks, if successful. Israel and Hamas on Thursday both appeared inclined to underplay the latest developments in written statements, with people involved in the talks expressing cautious optimism.

For months, Israel and Hamas have engaged in mediated negotiations focused on trying to reach a framework agreement, intentionally leaving key details — such as the identity of Palestinian prisoners to be released in exchange for hostages —  aside as they worked to hammer out a framework.

The breakthrough in the talks came earlier this week after the United States proposed new language for two key clauses (8 and 14) focused on the scope and sequencing of negotiations set to take place during the first phase of the agreement in order to unlock the second phase of the deal. Hamas broadly agreed with the new language, unlocking detailed negotiations following Netanyahu’s approval.

Mossad Director David Barnea, who has led Israel’s negotiating team, is set to lead the negotiating delegation for the new round of detailed talks, an Israeli source familiar with the talks said.

Talks are expected to be held in Doha, Qatar, starting as early as Friday, according to a senior Biden administration official.

The Mossad director is expected to meet with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani for discussions aiming to bring the parties closer to a deal in Gaza, according to a source with knowledge of the talks.

Those negotiations are expected to last two to three weeks, the Israeli source said, to resolve issues such as the identities of Palestinian prisoners to be released, the exact ratio of prisoners to hostages and the technical sequencing of the releases.

“We are also waiting for a positive response from the Israeli side, which will initiate negotiations into details of the deal,” Naim added. “We have no information about any delegation visiting Cairo.”

Netanyahu spoke Thursday with US President Joe Biden to discuss the progress in the negotiations and the Israeli Cabinet was set to meet Thursday evening.

The call focused on the details of the hostage and ceasefire deal, the senior Biden administration official said, adding that there seems to be a “pretty significant opening” for the hostage deal to be agreed upon by all the involved groups.

When asked if the administration believes that Netanyahu is playing politics and could try to sabotage the deal, the official said that the deal is structured in a way that “fully protects Israel’s interests.”

The official added that Biden will have the opportunity to talk about the deal with other world leaders next week during the NATO summit, which will be held in Washington, DC.

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