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Gaza ceasefire plan for hostage release awaits Hamas response

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Gaza ceasefire plan for hostage release awaits Hamas response
© Reuters. Dahlia Cooper hangs a picture of her father-in-law Amiram Cooper, who was kidnapped on the deadly October 7 attack by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel,

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By Jonathan Landay, Maya Gebeily, Andrew Mills and Nidal al-Mughrabi

WASHINGTON/BEIRUT/DOHA (Reuters) – Hamas is studying a three-phase Gaza ceasefire plan that would secure the release of most Israeli hostages but does not yet commit Israel to end its war with the Palestinian militant group, according to sources with knowledge of the proposal.

The viability of the plan formulated by U.S., Israeli and Egyptian spy chiefs and Qatar’s prime minister hinges on whether or not Hamas, which rules the enclave, will agree to the first phase without agreeing to a permanent end to the war – thus far a core demand of the group.

“We don’t know and we cannot predict what Hamas’ response will be,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, said on Monday.

Hamas told Reuters in a statement on Tuesday the proposal would involve three stages, including the release of hostages held by the group and Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. The statement corroborated some details of the framework provided to Reuters by two sources briefed on the proposal.

Men, children, the elderly and wounded would be released in the first stage, the statement said, and the plan had been sent to Gaza to obtain the opinion of Hamas leaders there. “After that, the Hamas leadership will meet to discuss the paper and express its final opinion on it,” the statement said.

More than 100 Israeli hostages are still held, following the release of a similar number in an earlier truce in November that involved the release of scores of Palestinian prisoners.

Versions of the phased ceasefire framework have been under discussion since late December, but Israel did not sign onto the concept until David Barnea, the Mossad chief, met his U.S. and Egyptian counterparts and Sheikh Mohammed in Paris on Sunday.

Egyptian sources said Qatar, Egypt and Jordan would guarantee that Hamas adheres to any agreement, while the U.S. and France would do the same on the Israeli side. Reuters was unable to establish what assurances the guarantors would be able to offer.

Israeli officials did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, who says the group is open to all ideas that will lead to an end to Israel’s Gaza offensive, announced on Tuesday he would visit Cairo to discuss the plan.

WOMEN, CHILDREN, THE ELDERLY

Its first phase would consist of a pause in fighting and the release of elderly, civilian women and children hostages, said a source briefed on the Paris talks and a second source with in-depth knowledge of the talks and their results. Major deliveries of food and medicine to Gaza, facing a ruinous humanitarian crisis, would resume, according to both sources.

The sources differed on how long the first stage ceasefire would last, but two of them said it would be set for at least a month.

The second phase would see the releases of female Israeli soldiers, and another increase in aid deliveries and restoration of utility services to Gaza, and the third phase would see the release of the bodies of deceased Israeli troops in exchange for Palestinian prisoners freed, the two sources said.

The Hamas statement said the second phase would also involve the release of male military recruits.

“Military operations on both sides will stop during the three stages,” it said. The number of Palestinian prisoners to be released is to be left to the negotiation process “at every stage, with the Israeli side preparing to release those with high sentences,” the Hamas statement said.

    Both sources said that although Israel has not committed to a permanent ceasefire, the ultimate aim of this phased approach is a fourth phase in which the war would end and Hamas would release male IDF soldiers held captive in exchange for Israel’s release of additional Palestinian prisoners held in jail.

“There is a consensus on the concept of the framework, but critical details of each phase still need to be worked out,” said an official briefed on the negotiations.

If Hamas does agree to the framework proposal it could still take days or weeks to settle logistical details of the ceasefire and the release of hostages and prisoners, the official said.

During the talks preceding the truce in November, the indirect chain of communication between Hamas leaders based in the group’s Gaza tunnels and Israeli officials broke several times because of power outages amid intense fighting, a source briefed on those talks said at that time.

The current behind-the-scenes discussions are proceeding in tandem with a public standoff in which both sides in the conflict appear to want to pressure the other by issuing statements ruling out various potential concessions.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not quit Gaza or free thousands of Palestinian prisoners, while Hamas ally Islamic Jihad said it would not engage in any understandings on hostages without ensuring a comprehensive ceasefire and withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

A far-right partner in Netanyahu’s coalition, Itamar Ben-Gvir, threatened on Tuesday to quit the government over any attempt to enter a “reckless” deal with Hamas on the hostages.

‘WHAT REALLY MATTERS’

It was not immediately clear whether such public positioning reflected developments in the backroom discussions.

The framework agreed in Paris is based on elements of an initial proposal made by Israel and a counterproposal made by Hamas, Sheikh Mohammed said at Washington’s Atlantic Council think tank on Monday.

“We tried to blend things together to come up with some sort of reasonable ground that brings everybody together,” he said.

The source with in-depth knowledge of the proposal said it could still be amended.

“The number of days or hostage calculations can change, but with this approach it allows for a sort of win-win shaped by what really matters to the two sides,” the source said.

Significant gaps remain, almost four months after Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people and took 253 others hostage on Oct. 7 in a bloody rampage through southern Israel towns.

    Israel has responded by bombarding the narrow, densely populated Gaza Strip, killing more than 26,000 Palestinians and turning the enclave into a wasteland of rubble.

    The source with in-depth knowledge of the talks said the discussions in Paris were “productive,” but that the deal could only move forward if both Hamas and Israel received robust guarantees from its backers.

   By leaving the issue of male hostages from the Israeli Defense Forces to the end, the source said, Hamas could be made to feel it retained some leverage over the Israeli military.

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Esports Entertainment Group transitions to OTC Markets

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Esports Entertainment Group transitions to OTC Markets
© Reuters.

ST. JULIAN’S, Malta – Esports Entertainment Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: GMBL), a prominent iGaming and esports content provider, announced today that it will voluntarily delist from the Nasdaq Stock Market. Starting on Wednesday, the company’s securities, including common stock and warrants, will be suspended from Nasdaq and will begin trading on the OTC Pink Market, with plans to move to the OTCQB Venture Market subsequently.

The company, which operates globally and is licensed by the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA), focuses on esports wagering and providing business-to-business esports solutions. It boasts a significant esports venue management system deployed in over 1,000 locations worldwide, spanning colleges and universities.

Esports Entertainment Group’s strategic aim is to leverage its industry position to tap into the multi-billion-dollar esports and wagering market. It also targets the burgeoning sector of short-form esports content, which is conducive to betting due to its competitive and fast-paced nature.

The company provides consumer-focused wagering through its MGA-licensed brands and plans to distribute esports content aligned with its growth strategy. This move to the OTC Markets comes amid broader strategic efforts, although the company has cautioned that forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that could affect actual results.

This update is based on a press release statement and reflects the company’s current operational adjustments. It should be noted that any forward-looking statements are subject to various factors that could significantly impact the company’s actual performance.

InvestingPro Insights

As Esports Entertainment Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: GMBL) prepares to transition from the Nasdaq Stock Market to the OTC Pink Market, investors are closely monitoring the company’s financial health and market performance. According to InvestingPro data, the company’s market capitalization stands at a modest 1.38M USD. Despite challenging market conditions, GMBL has maintained impressive gross profit margins, with the last twelve months as of Q1 2024 reporting a margin of 64.87%. This indicates a strong ability to control costs relative to revenue—a crucial factor in the highly competitive esports and iGaming industries.

However, the road ahead appears fraught with challenges. Revenue has seen a significant decline, with a decrease of 68.86% over the last twelve months as of Q1 2024. Additionally, the company’s stock has experienced a substantial downturn, with a one-year price total return as of the 51st day of 2024 plummeting by an alarming 99.95%. This level of price volatility is a critical consideration for investors, as highlighted by one of the InvestingPro Tips, which notes that GMBL stock generally trades with high price volatility.

For those considering a deeper analysis of Esports Entertainment Group, Inc., there are additional InvestingPro Tips available that could shed light on the company’s cash burn rate, short-term obligations, and analyst expectations regarding profitability. In total, there are 17 additional InvestingPro Tips that can be accessed to help investors make more informed decisions. For readers looking to take advantage of this resource, use the coupon code PRONEWS24 to get an additional 10% off a yearly or biyearly Pro and Pro+ subscription at InvestingPro.

This article was generated with the support of AI and reviewed by an editor. For more information see our T&C.

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Cox Communications wins order overturning $1 billion US copyright verdict

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Cox Communications wins order overturning $1 billion US copyright verdict
© Reuters.

By Blake Brittain

(Reuters) -Cox Communications, the cable television and internet service provider, convinced a U.S. appeals court to throw out a $1 billion jury verdict in favor of several major record labels that had accused it of failing to curb user piracy, setting the stage for a new trial on the matter.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia ruled on Tuesday that the amount of damages was not justified and that a federal district court should hold a new trial to determine the appropriate amount.

A Virginia jury in 2019 found Cox, the largest unit of privately owned Cox Enterprises, liable for its customers’ violations of over 10,000 copyrights belonging to labels including Sony (NYSE:) Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group (AS:).

Representatives for Cox and the labels did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision.

More than 50 labels teamed up to sue Cox in 2018, in what was seen as a test of the obligations of internet service providers (ISPs) to thwart piracy.

The labels accused Cox of failing to address thousands of infringement notices, cut off access for repeat infringers, or take reasonable measures to deter pirates.

Atlanta-based Cox had told the 4th Circuit that upholding the verdict would force ISPs to boot households or businesses based on “isolated and potentially inaccurate allegations,” or require intrusive oversight of customers’ internet usage.

Other ISPs, including Charter Communications (NASDAQ:), Frontier Communications (OTC:) and Astound Broadband, formerly RCN, have also been sued by the record labels.

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Analysis-Barclays maps uncertain route to a simpler, stronger future

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Analysis-Barclays maps uncertain route to a simpler, stronger future
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A branch of Barclays Bank is seen, in London, Britain, February 23, 2022. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

By Sinead Cruise, Lawrence White and Iain Withers

LONDON (Reuters) – Barclays, unveiling its biggest revamp since 2016, sought to appease investors seeking a clearer route to less volatile returns.

Yet the British lender’s plan to dedicate fewer financial resources to its investment bank is at odds with ambitions to expand in some of the unit’s higher-risk businesses, investors said.

Barclays has historically devoted much of its capital to investment banking, roiling more conservative shareholders who say other businesses posting more reliable profits have been under-invested as a result.

The bank will continue to allocate the lion’s share of its firepower to investment banking, and while a bigger push into domestic lending is broadly welcomed, some analysts and investors are unconvinced the bank can grow market share enough to meet its lofty revenue goals, against strong competition and a skittish UK economy.

Barclays’ long-awaited strategic update presented on Tuesday will have the bank return at least 10 billion pounds ($12.66 billion) to investors and reorganize into five units from the current three business lines, a move it said would create a simpler and better balanced bank.

This so-called “re-segmentation” aims to give investors greater transparency of performance in each division, unlike the previous structure which reported corporate lending and investment banking revenues together, the bank said.

In a key part of the overhaul, Barclays will reduce the share of risk-weighted assets (RWA) devoted to its investment bank to around 50% by 2026 from about 63%.

In turn, the bank plans to deploy around 30 billion pounds more to its UK consumer, corporate lending and private banking arms that generate higher returns.

“Today’s announcement from Barclays is welcome as far as it goes,” said Jeremy Hosking, founder and portfolio manager at Hosking Partners.

“But shareholders are still waiting for a diagnosis of the 15-year share price undervaluation of the bank, in particular as to whether it is cyclical or structural.”

Barclays shares rose as much as 9.4% on Tuesday and closed up 8.6% – their biggest daily gain since November 2020. In the last 12 months, they have lost over 7%, compared with a 4.2% rise in a key regional banking index

The average returns on tangible equity (RoTE) in the businesses the bank has pledged to invest in ranged from 18% to 31% in the two years to end-2023, compared with a more modest 10% at the investment bank, company figures show.

By reallocating its capital, Barclays says revenue will grow to around 30 billion by 2026 from 25.4 billion pounds in 2023.

Scepticism abounds. Many analysts and commentators said the rejig did not reflect a “de-risking” of the investment bank but rather an ambition to grow other units faster to reduce the investment bank’s outsized influence on group profit.

And with such strong competition posed by NatWest Group in British small business lending, Lloyds Banking Group (LON:) in mortgages and HSBC in corporate lending, Barclays’ big UK bet is not guaranteed to succeed.

STANDING STILL

What is more, the capital underpinning Barclays’ investment bank will still far exceed that deployed by rivals, such as BNP Paribas (OTC:) and UBS in their investment banks. Both lenders boast healthier valuations than Barclays and similarly handsome shareholder payout plans.

Within the investment bank, Barclays intends to further grow its financing business, Chief Executive C.S. Venkatakrishnan told investors on Tuesday, referring to the lucrative but potentially risky practice of lending money to large institutional clients against stocks or bonds as collateral.

Barclays has invested heavily in the business, growing revenues from 1.8 billion pounds at an undisclosed point to 2.9 billion in 2023, he said.

Analysts at Citi estimate the investment bank is expected to account for 2.7 billion pounds of the targeted 4.6 billion-pound increase in group revenues by 2026, a goal they describe as “highly ambitious”.

Those revenue goals, they say, rely on a 900 million pound bounce in the industry’s overall fee pool over the period and 1.2 billion pounds of growth in equity capital markets and advisory fees as well as additional sales to existing clients.

Other investors and analysts voiced doubts whether the plan will offer as much reassurance as executives hope.

“The buybacks will help, but the second part of the picture is growing revenue,” Sajeer Ahmed, portfolio manager at Aegon (NYSE:) Asset Management, told Reuters.

“Fund managers will treat this part of the investment case with scepticism. In particular, because it involves growing the investment bank.”

Growth will require a breakthrough in select segments, namely the buying and selling of European interest-rate products, equity derivatives and securitisation where Barclays is currently ranked outside the sector’s top five players.

Rupak Ghose, a corporate strategist and financial markets analyst, said the strategic objectives outlined by Barclays were unlikely to bolster the bank’s shares over the long term.

“This is a big return of capital but I fear a dead cat bounce,” he said.

($1 = 0.7897 pounds)

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