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Israel says Hamas rejects key elements of US ceasefire plan for Gaza

June 12, 2024 at 1:33 pm

Fighters of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas in Gaza City, Gaza on 27 November, 2023. [Stringer – Anadolu Agency]

Hamas formally responded on Tuesday to a US ceasefire proposal for the eight-month-old war in the Gaza Strip, and Israel said the response was tantamount to a rejection, while a Hamas official said the Palestinian group merely reiterated long-standing demands not met by the current plan, Reuters reports.

Egypt and Qatar said they had received Hamas’s response to a proposal outlined by US President, Joe Biden, on 31 May, but did not disclose the contents.

The Hamas official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters the response reaffirmed its stance that a ceasefire must lead to a permanent end to hostilities in Gaza, withdrawal of Israeli forces, reconstruction of the Palestinian enclave and release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

“We reiterated our previous stance. I believe there are no big gaps. The ball is now in the Israeli courtyard.”

The United States has said Israel accepted its proposal, but Israel has not publicly said this. Israel, which has continued assaults in central and southern Gaza, among the bloodiest of the war, has repeatedly said it would not commit to an end of its campaign in Gaza before Hamas is eliminated.

READ: US CENTCOM Commander visited Israel during Nuseirat camp massacre

An Israeli official said on Tuesday the country had received Hamas’s answer from the mediators and that Hamas “changed all of the main and most meaningful parameters”.

The Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Hamas “has rejected the proposal for a hostage release that was presented by President Biden”.

Earlier, a non-Israeli official briefed on the matter, who declined to be identified, said Hamas proposed a new timeline for a permanent ceasefire with Israel and withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, including Rafah.

The UN Security Council, on Monday, backed a US resolution supporting the proposal outlined by Biden. Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, told Reuters on Tuesday before mediators received the group’s response that Hamas accepted the Security Council resolution and was ready to negotiate over the details of a ceasefire.

Also, on Tuesday, Hamas and its ally, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, expressed “readiness to positively” reach a deal to end the war in Gaza in a joint statement on Tuesday, which some interpreted as acceptance of Biden’s proposal.

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, in Tel Aviv to meet Israeli officials, called this a “hopeful sign” but said it was not conclusive.

More important “is the word coming from Gaza and from the Hamas leadership in Gaza. That’s what counts, and that’s what we don’t have yet,” Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv.

Ceasefire plan 

Biden’s proposal envisages a ceasefire and phased release of Israeli hostages in Gaza in exchange for Palestinians jailed in Israel, ultimately leading to a permanent end to the war.

This would be a three-phase plan, starting with an initial six-week ceasefire with an Israeli military withdrawal from populated areas of Gaza and the release of some hostages while “a permanent end to hostilities” is negotiated through mediators.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Israeli official’s remarks on Tuesday. Earlier, US officials said they were reviewing Hamas’s response, as did Qatar and Egypt.

For months, negotiators from the US, Egypt and Qatar have been trying to mediate a ceasefire in the enclave of 2.3 million people.

Israel is retaliating against Hamas, which rules Gaza, over a 7 October attack by its fighters.

More than 1,200 people were killed and over 250 taken hostage by Hamas on 7 October, according to Israeli tallies. More than 100 hostages are believed to remain captive in Gaza.

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 launched an air, ground and sea assault on the Palestinian Territory, killing more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.

READ: ‘Immense’ Gaza death toll is crime against humanity, UN inquiry says