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Gaza ceasefire plan hangs in balance as Hamas seeks changes

June 12, 2024 at 4:20 pm

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who came to Israel for official visits, is being protested in front of his hotel where he stays, in Tel Aviv, Israel on 11 June, 2024 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said on Wednesday that Hamas had proposed numerous changes, some unworkable, to a US-backed proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza, but that mediators were determined to close the gaps, Reuters reports.

The proposal outlined by US President Joe Biden envisages a truce and a phased release of Israeli hostages in Gaza in exchange for Palestinians jailed in Israel, ultimately leading to a permanent end to the war.

At a press conference with Qatar’s Prime Minister in Doha, Blinken said some of the counter-proposals from the group administering Gaza had sought to amend terms that it had accepted in previous talks.

Negotiators from the US, Egypt and Qatar have tried for months to mediate a ceasefire in the conflict – which has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and devastated the enclave – and free the hostages, more than 100 of whom are believed to remain captive in Gaza.

“Hamas could have answered with a single word: Yes,” Blinken said.

READ: Qatar PM says there’s a clear and firm call to end the war in Gaza

“Instead, Hamas waited nearly two weeks and then proposed more changes, a number of which go beyond positions that it had previously taken and accepted.”

The US has said Israel has accepted its proposal, but Israel has not publicly stated this.

Izzat Al-Rishq from Hamas’s political bureau said its formal response to the US proposal was “responsible, serious and positive” and “opens up a wide pathway” for an accord.

Hamas also wants written guarantees from the US on the ceasefire plan, two Egyptian security sources said.

Blinken said Washington would, in coming weeks, put forward proposals for the post-war administration and rebuilding of Gaza: “We have to have plans for the day after the conflict ends in Gaza, and we need to have them as soon as possible.”

Major powers are intensifying efforts to halt the conflict, in part, to prevent it spiralling into a regional war, with a dangerous flashpoint being the escalating hostilities on the Lebanese-Israeli border.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, fired barrages of rockets at Israel on Wednesday in retaliation for the killing of a senior Hezbollah field commander. Israel said it had, in turn, attacked the launch sites from the air.

Taleb Abdallah, or Abu Taleb, was the most senior Hezbollah commander killed in the conflict, a security source said, and Hezbollah official, Hashem Safieddine, vowed that the group would expand its operations against Israel.

UN findings on war crimes 

The war in Gaza began on 7 October when Hamas fighters killed 1,200 Israelis and took more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

However, since then, it has been revealed by Haaretz that helicopters and tanks of the Israeli army had, in fact, killed many of the 1,139 soldiers and civilians claimed by Israel to have been killed by the Palestinian Resistance.

Israel’s retaliation has caused the deaths of more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, displaced most of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million, caused widespread hunger, and devastated housing and infrastructure.

READ: Germany calls UN war crimes accusations against Israel ‘serious’

A UN inquiry found that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes early in the Gaza war, and that Israel’s actions also constituted crimes against humanity because of the immense civilian losses.

The UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) produced two parallel reports, one focusing on the 7 October attacks and another on Israel’s response.

Israel, which did not cooperate, dismissed the findings as the result of anti-Israeli bias. Hamas did not immediately comment.

The reports released in Geneva, which cover the period to December, found both sides had committed war crimes including torture; murder or wilful killing; outrages upon personal dignity; and inhuman or cruel treatment.

The investigators found that Israel had committed additional war crimes including starvation as a method of warfare, not only failing to provide essential supplies such as food, water, shelter and medicine to Gazans but also acting “to prevent the supply of those necessities by anyone else”.

Some of the crimes, such as murder, also constitute crimes against humanity by Israel, the Commission said.

The evidence gathered by such UN-mandated bodies can form the basis for war crimes prosecutions.

It could be drawn on by the International Criminal Court, where prosecutors last month requested arrest warrants for Netanyahu, his defence chief and three Hamas leaders for alleged war crimes.

Israel continues assaults in Gaza 

As diplomats sought a ceasefire deal, Israel continued assaults in central and southern Gaza that are among the bloodiest of the war.

Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has repeatedly said Israel will not commit to end its campaign before Hamas is eliminated.

Residents said Israeli forces had pounded areas across Gaza on Wednesday as tanks advanced towards the northern part of the city of Rafah, on the Egyptian border.

Palestinian health officials said six people had been killed in an air strike on Gaza City in the north, and one man had been killed by a tank shell in Rafah.

Footage circulated on social media from Rafah’s “Saudi” neighbourhood, which Reuters had not verified, showed swathes of devastation after tanks retreated.

The Hamas-run Gaza government media office said Israeli forces were also advancing into the area around Rafah from the east, heading towards the sea.

The Israeli military said that, in the previous 24 hours, it had eliminated cells in “close-quarters encounters” in the Rafah area and destroyed structures rigged with explosives.

In the central city of Deir Al-Balah, mother of two, Huda, said the displaced had lost hope that the war would end any time soon.

“We lost faith both in our leaders, and in the world,” she told Reuters via a chat app.

“Ceasefire promises by our leaders and the world are like words written in butter at night, they disappear with the first light of day.”

READ: Hamas: Israel attempting to evade proposed Gaza ceasefire deal