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Here’s what’s on the table for Israel and Hamas in the latest cease-fire talks

CAIRO (AP) — Israel and Hamas appear to be seriously negotiating an end to the war in Gaza and the return of Israeli hostages. A leaked truce proposal hints at compromises by both sides after months of stalemated talks.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week praised Israel for offering what he described as significant concessions and saying “ the time is now ” for Hamas to seal the deal. Hamas leaders, meanwhile, say they are reviewing the proposal in a “positive spirit” and sending a team to Egypt in the coming days to continue the talks.

Here’s what we know so far about the current proposal, confirmed by Egyptian and Hamas officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss behind-the-scenes negotiations.

WHERE THE TWO SIDES STAND

Israeli leaders are weighing whether to accept a deal that would delay or prevent their planned ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah — a scenario that falls short of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledges of “ total victory ” and the destruction of Hamas.

Hamas’ militant leaders must decide if giving up the hostages, the group’s biggest bargaining chip, is worth securing a long-term truce but not necessarily a permanent end to the war.

The plan offered by Egyptian mediators aims to stave off Israel’s Rafah offensive, which the U.S. says would have devastating consequences for over a million displaced Palestinians crowded against the border with Egypt. The Egyptians have also warned Israel against the operation, fearing a flood of Palestinian refugees driven into its territory.

DE-ESCALATE IN PHASES

The initial stage of the deal would last for 40 days. Hamas would start by releasing female civilian hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

After this first batch, Israeli troops would withdraw from a coastal road in Gaza and head inland to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid. This would also allow displaced civilians to return to their homes in the northern Gaza Strip. Hamas would provide a list of hostages who are still alive during that time. Israel estimates that Hamas is holding about 100 hostages and the remains of 30 others either killed in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war or who have died in captivity.

Within the third week, both sides would start indirect negotiations that aim to restore permanent calm. Three weeks into the first phase, Israeli troops would withdraw from central Gaza.

NEXT STEPS TOWARD PEACE

The second six-week phase would seek to finalize arrangements for a permanent calm, the release of all remaining hostages held by Hamas, both civilians and soldiers, in exchange for more Palestinian prisoners. The soldier hostages would not be released before the start of the calm.

The third and final stage would include the release of the remains of deceased hostages still in Gaza, more prisoners held by Israel, and the start of a five-year reconstruction plan. The plan says that Hamas would agree not to rebuild its military arsenal.

STICKING POINTS

Both sides want to end the war on their own terms.

Hamas leaders have for months refused anything short of a full Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip and a permanent end to the fighting. Hamas negotiators will be seeking clarification on these issues when they return to Cairo.

Israel wants to see all remaining hostages home safe, with Hamas and other militant groups crushed on the battlefield and expelled from power in Gaza — unable to launch another attack like the one on Oct. 7 that sparked the war.

Israel says the Rafah invasion is critical for these goals. Netanyahu says Israel will invade the town with or without a hostage deal.

Netanyahu also faces heavy domestic pressure. Thousands of people have joined weekly demonstrations calling on him to reach a hostage deal immediately. At the same time, hard-liners in his Cabinet have threatened to bring down the government if he ends the war.

The Biden administration, which provides Israel crucial military and diplomatic support, says it opposes a Rafah invasion unless Israel provides a “credible” plan for protecting civilians there.

POST-WAR UNCERTAINTY

It is not clear whether the cease-fire proposal addresses key questions about what happens in Gaza once the current round of fighting ends.

The United States has called for a plan that includes a return of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, which was ousted from Gaza by Hamas in 2007 and now administers parts of the occupied West Bank.

The Biden administration seeks eventual Palestinian governance in Gaza and the West Bank as a precursor to Palestinian statehood. Netanyahu and his right-wing government reject a role for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and say they will never allow a Palestinian state.

Israel wants open-ended freedom of action for its military in Gaza, while the Biden administration says it won’t accept a return of Israeli military occupation of the Gaza Strip.

It also remains unclear who will run Gaza during the five-year reconstruction phase, what will happen to Hamas during that time and who will pay for the daunting job of rebuilding.

The stakes were underscored in a new U.N. report Thursday that estimated damage caused by the war in Gaza at over $18.5 billion. It said it would take until 2040 to rebuild all of the homes destroyed in nearly seven months of Israeli bombardment and ground offensives. Gaza was already grappling with a 45% unemployment rate before the war, according to the U.N. Development Program.

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Callister reported from New York.

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