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Hamas demands 'complete halt' to war in response to Gaza ceasefire proposal

Masked Hamas militants in Gaza carry mock coffins of Palestinians who were killed during Israeli military operations.
Masked Hamas militants in Gaza carry mock coffins of Palestinians who were killed during Israeli military operations. Copyright Jacquelyn Martin/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Jacquelyn Martin/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Euronews with AP
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The US says Israel supports the deal, which has been backed by the UN Security Council, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given conflicting signals.

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Hamas says it has responded to a US-backed proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza — albeit with some “amendments” to the deal — and that its priority is to bring a “complete stop” to the eight-month war that has killed more than 37,000 people.

The foreign ministries of Qatar and Egypt, who have been key mediators alongside the US, confirmed that they had received Hamas’ response and said mediators were studying it.

“We’re in receipt of this reply that Hamas delivered to Qatar and to Egypt, and we are evaluating it right now,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington.

A separate Hamas spokesperson, Jihad Taha, said the response included “amendments that confirm the ceasefire, withdrawal, reconstruction and (prisoner) exchange”.

The proposal, announced by US President Joe Biden last month, calls for a three-phased plan that would begin with an initial six-week ceasefire and the release of some hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas and Palestinian civilians would be allowed to return to their homes. Hamas is still holding around 120 hostages, a third of whom are believed to be dead.

Phase one also requires the safe distribution of humanitarian assistance “at scale throughout the Gaza Strip,” which Biden said would lead to 600 trucks of aid entering Gaza every day.

At the same time, negotiations would be launched over the second phase, which is to bring “a permanent end to hostilities, in exchange for the release of all other hostages still in Gaza, and a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.”

Phase three would launch “a major multi-year reconstruction plan for Gaza and the return of the remains of any deceased hostages still in Gaza to their families.”

The militant group endorsed a similar proposal last month that was rejected by Israel.

Families and supporters of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza hold banners and flags during a protest in Tel Aviv calling for their return.
Families and supporters of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza hold banners and flags during a protest in Tel Aviv calling for their return.Leo Correa/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

In a joint statement announcing that they had submitted their reply to Qatar and Egypt, Hamas and the smaller militant group Islamic Jihad said they were ready to “deal positively to arrive at an agreement” and that their priority is to bring a “complete stop” to the war.

A senior Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, told Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen television that the group had “submitted some remarks on the proposal to the mediators,” without elaborating.

While supporting the broad outlines of the deal, Hamas officials have expressed wariness about the prospect that Israel will implement its terms, particularly provisions for an eventual permanent end to the fighting and full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in return for the release of all hostages taken by Hamas on 7 October 2023.

The US says Israel has accepted the proposal, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given conflicting signals, saying his government will not stop its campaign until Hamas is destroyed.

The transition from the first to the second phase appears to be a sticking point. Hamas wants assurances that Israel will not resume the war, and Israel wants to ensure that protracted negotiations over the second phase do not prolong the ceasefire indefinitely while leaving hostages in captivity.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a joint press conference with the Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani in Doha, Qatar.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a joint press conference with the Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani in Doha, Qatar.Ibraheem Al Omari/AP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been in the region this week trying to push through the UN Security Council-backed deal, which calls for a six-week ceasefire that would eventually become permanent.

On Tuesday, he continued to pressure Hamas toward accepting the proposal, saying that the UN Security Council’s vote in its favour made it “as clear as it possibly could be” that the world supports the plan.

“Everyone’s vote is in, except for one vote, and that’s Hamas,” Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv after meeting with Israeli officials.

He said Netanyahu had reaffirmed his commitment to the proposal when they met late Monday.

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Later on Tuesday, Blinken attended a Gaza aid conference in Jordan, where he announced over $400 million (€370 million) in additional aid for Palestinians in Gaza and the wider region, bringing the total US assistance sent over the past eight months to more than $674 million (€622 million).

UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the gathering that the amount of aid flowing to the UN in Gaza for distribution has plummeted by two-thirds since Israel launched an offensive in the territory’s southern city of Rafah in early May.

Guterres called for all border crossings to be opened, saying, “the speed and scale of the carnage and killing in Gaza” is beyond anything he has since he took the helm of the UN in 2017.

'Israel and Hamas may have committed war crimes'

In a separate development, the UN human rights office said Israeli forces and Palestinian militants may have committed war crimes during the deadly Israeli raid that rescued four hostages over the weekend. At least 274 Palestinians were killed in the operation, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

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On Monday, the UN Security Council voted overwhelmingly to approve the proposal, with 14 of the 15 members voting in favour and Russia abstaining. The resolution calls on Israel and Hamas “to fully implement its terms without delay and without condition.”

Palestinians look at the aftermath of the Israeli bombing in Nuseirat refugee camp, Gaza Strip.
Palestinians look at the aftermath of the Israeli bombing in Nuseirat refugee camp, Gaza Strip.Jehad Alshrafi/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

Biden has presented the deal as an Israeli proposal, but Netanyahu has publicly disputed key aspects of it, saying there were parts left out by Biden. The conflicting signals appear to reflect Netanyahu's political dilemma. His far-right coalition allies have rejected the proposal and have threatened to bring down his government if he ends the war without destroying Hamas.

A lasting ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza would likely allow Hamas to retain control of the territory and rebuild its military capabilities.

But Netanyahu is also under mounting pressure to accept a deal to bring the hostages back. Thousands of Israelis, including families of the hostages, have demonstrated in favour of the US-backed plan.

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