Gaza war: US assesses Hamas response to cease-fire proposal

image caption, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke to relatives and friends of the hostages in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

  • author, David Critton
  • stock, BBC News

The US says it is evaluating Hamas’ response to a recent proposal for a Gaza ceasefire and hostage release deal.

The Palestinian Authority said it was ready to “deal positively” with the process, but stressed the need for Israel to agree to a permanent ceasefire.

The Israeli government did not comment, but an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Hamas’ response amounted to a rejection.

Meanwhile, the US secretary of state is visiting Qatar – which is acting as a mediator alongside the US and Egypt – to try to push the plan forward.

Antony Blinken said on Tuesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had confirmed his commitment to the deal and blamed Hamas for any lack of progress.

However, Mr Netanyahu has not publicly endorsed the plan, which he said was delivered by Israel when US President Joe Biden outlined it 12 days ago.

A brief statement confirmed that Hamas had issued an official response to the latest ceasefire proposal, which has received broad international support and was approved by the UN Security Council on Monday.

It reiterated Hamas’ demand for a “complete halt to the ongoing aggression against Gaza” and the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Palestinian territories.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office did not release a recorded response.

But an anonymous Israeli official released a statement saying that Hamas had “changed all of the most important and most meaningful parameters” and “rejected the plan for the release of the hostages presented by President Biden.”

The most important reaction is now awaited from the mediators – especially the US – once they have examined the proposal and determined the extent of the Hamas amendments.

“We have received this response from Hamas to Qatar and Egypt, and we are now evaluating it,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.

Qatar and Egypt said in a joint statement that they were studying Hamas’s response and would “coordinate with the relevant parties on the next steps”. They also pledged to continue their mediation efforts with the US “until an agreement is reached”.

image caption, Israeli forces carried out strikes in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday

The Israeli military launched a campaign in Gaza to wipe out Hamas in response to an unprecedented cross-border attack on southern Israel on October 7, during which approximately 1,200 people were killed and 251 were taken hostage.

More than 37,160 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

A deal agreed in November saw Hamas release 105 hostages and about 240 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in exchange for a week-long ceasefire. Israel says 116 hostages are still being held, 41 of whom are presumed dead.

Initially a six-week ceasefire in which Hamas would release some hostages — including women, the elderly and the sick or injured — in exchange for Israel releasing an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners.

A second phase would see the release of all remaining hostages and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza as part of a permanent “ceasefire,” but the latter is still subject to further negotiations.

In the third phase, the remains of the dead hostages will be returned and a major reconstruction program for Gaza will begin.

Mr Netanyahu acknowledged that his war cabinet approved the plan, but unequivocally did not voice his support for it. Far-right members of his cabinet have threatened to leave his coalition and trigger its collapse if the deal goes ahead, considering it a capitulation to Hamas.

The actual Israeli proposal – which is longer than the summary provided by Mr Biden – has not been made public and it is unclear whether it differs from what Mr Biden has communicated. It was delivered to Hamas days before Mr Biden’s speech.

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