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, Tom Bateman
  • stock, Travels with BBC State Department Correspondent, Anthony Blinken
  • Report from Doha

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has arrived in Qatar to press for an agreement on a Gaza ceasefire and hostage release deal, which is currently hanging in the balance after Hamas’ response to the latest proposals.

Mr Blinken is said to have stayed up late into the night assessing a speech delivered by Hamas to mediators in Qatar and Egypt.

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.

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

BBC Mr Blinken is part of a traveling press team visiting Doha, where he will meet Qatari leaders to try to push the project forward.

The glistening bayside location belies any sense of regional crisis.

On Tuesday, Mr Blinken said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had reaffirmed his commitment to the ceasefire proposal and that Hamas was the only obstacle to progress.

However, Mr Netanyahu has yet to publicly endorse the plan, which he said was delivered by Israel when US President Joe Biden outlined it 12 days ago.

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.

A Hamas official, Izzat al-Rishq, said the response was “responsible, serious and positive” and that it opened “a broad path” to reaching an agreement.

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.”

A more critical reaction from the mediators is now awaited, once Hamas has examined the proposal and determined the extent of the amendments.

A US State Department official said Mr Blinken sent two senior Biden administration figures, Barbara Leaf and Derek Solett, from the US embassy hotel in the Jordanian capital, Amman, to retrieve the document from Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel. .

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 attack on southern Israel on October 7, during which approximately 1,200 people were killed and 251 taken hostage.

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 have died.

Mr Biden said the new plan would involve three phases.

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 all Israeli forces from Gaza as part of a “permanent cessation of hostilities”, 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 project for Gaza will begin.

Speaking at a Gaza aid conference in Jordan on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Blinken said the best way to resolve the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories was to agree to an immediate ceasefire.

“When I met with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel yesterday, he reaffirmed his support and his commitment to bringing this project to the finish line.”

He added: “Today… the only thing standing in the way of this deal happening is Hamas.”

“So my primary and first message today is to every government, every multilateral agency, every humanitarian organization that wants to relieve the massive suffering in Gaza: Get Hamas to take the deal.”

Far-right ministers are pressuring Mr Netanyahu to ignore Washington’s diplomacy. They have also threatened to pull out of his ruling coalition and trigger its collapse if the US-backed plan to surrender to Hamas goes ahead.

The Prime Minister undoubtedly voiced his support for the plan, which he admitted had been approved by his War Cabinet.

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

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