Tue 27 Feb 2024 8:37 am - Jerusalem Time

Biden: A ceasefire in the Gaza Strip next Monday

US President Joe Biden said Monday that he hopes there will be a ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas by “next Monday (March 4).”

“Well, hopefully by the beginning of the weekend, I mean the end of the weekend,” Biden said after being asked when the ceasefire might begin during an appearance Monday at an ice cream shop in New York City with comedian Seth Meyers.

Biden explained: “The National Security Advisor (Jake Sullivan) told me that we are close. We are close. It is not complete yet, but I hope that we will reach a ceasefire by next Monday.”

Earlier Monday, CNN reported that Hamas backed away from some key demands in negotiations on a hostage deal and a cessation of fighting in Gaza after Israeli accusations that its position was “delusional,” bringing the negotiating parties closer to a preliminary agreement that could stop the fighting. . The fighting and the release of a group of Israeli hostages, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

A senior Biden administration official told CNN (according to what the network broadcast), following a meeting on Friday in Paris between the heads of American, Egyptian, and Israeli intelligence and a senior Biden administration official: “The main obstacles have been resolved regarding Hamas’ insistence on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces and an end to the war.” ".

The official added, "Hamas's requirements regarding the numbers of Palestinians [prisoners] who must be released have declined."

A diplomatic source familiar with the talks confirmed that Hamas had softened its position before agreeing on the first phase of the deal. Although it is expected that more difficult obstacles will arise later when complex issues such as Hamas's release of male hostages in the Israeli army and ending the war are discussed.

Participants in the discussions said the agreement would likely be implemented in multiple stages, and once an initial agreement is reached, it could lead to a truce lasting up to six weeks with the release of a group of Israeli hostages including women, children and the elderly. and patients in exchange for a smaller number of Palestinian prisoners than Hamas initially demanded.

According to Israeli officials (according to Axios), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked his negotiators not to accept the request to release some prisoners, including Hamas members who were convicted of killing Israelis and are serving long sentences.

On the other hand, Qatari mediators informed Israel that senior Hamas officials were “disappointed” with the updated framework for the hostage deal, and stressed that there was still a large gap between the proposal and their demands, two Israeli officials and an informed source told Axios.

"There is no room for much optimism," a senior Israeli official said.

He added, "The progress achieved by Israel with the mediators did not close the gaps with Hamas, and it is difficult to imagine at this stage an agreement before Ramadan."

More than four months after the start of the war launched by Israel against the besieged Gaza Strip, several countries, especially the United States, Israel’s main ally (which supported its fierce war on Gaza), are seeking to dissuade Netanyahu from launching an attack on Rafah, where about 1.5 million people are gathered. Millions of Palestinians, the majority of whom are displaced, according to the United Nations.

Although talks continue to reach a new truce, Netanyahu is committed to carrying out a ground operation against what he says is the "last stronghold" of the Hamas movement.

Israel launched its war on October 7, after Hamas carried out an unprecedented attack on southern Israel, killing more than 1,160 people, including 315 soldiers, according to official Israeli statements. About 250 people were also detained during the attack, and Israel says that 130 of them are still detained in the Gaza Strip. Gaza, and 31 of them are believed to have died.

Israel's rabid war on Gaza led to the deaths of 29,782 Palestinians, the majority of whom were women and children, according to the latest tally of the Ministry of Health in Gaza.

During the truce, negotiations will revolve around more sensitive topics such as the release of Israeli soldiers held hostage, Palestinian prisoners serving longer sentences, the withdrawal of Israeli occupation army forces and a permanent end to the war along with so-called “day after” issues. .

Israeli leaders have made clear that they intend to launch a military attack on Rafah, while Hamas said in a previous proposal that it wants to use a second phase to discuss “the necessary requirements for continuing the mutual cessation of military operations.”

Teams of countries that met on Friday in Paris were meeting on Monday in Doha to discuss the finer points of the broad issues discussed on Friday, a sign of progress.

State Department spokesman Matt Miller, responding to a question from a Jerusalem correspondent on Monday, said: “We made progress in these talks over the weekend and the past few days” to try to reach an agreement to free the hostages and secure a temporary ceasefire.

Miller said in a press conference at the ministry: “We still believe that reaching an agreement is possible and we will continue to strive to achieve it.”

Miller added that if Hamas "truly cares about the Palestinian people, it should agree to the deal on the table because it will significantly alleviate the suffering of this Palestinian people."

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Sunday declined to provide details about the conditions discussed, but said that Friday's meeting in Paris led to "an understanding between the four on the basic form of a hostage agreement for a temporary ceasefire."

Sullivan told American media networks that there must be indirect discussions between Qatar and Egypt with Hamas, because in the end they will have to agree on the release of the hostages, and that “this work is underway, and we hope that in the coming days we will be able to reach a point where it will actually be possible.” "A firm and final agreement on this issue. But we will have to wait and see."

Israel confirmed on Monday that it would send a team to Doha after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday was less dismissive of the status of the talks than he had been in the past few weeks.

“They have to come down to reality,” Netanyahu said of Hamas on Fox News. “And I think if that were the case, we would have been able to reach an agreement that we certainly wanted, and I wanted that.

Netanyahu is facing enormous pressure from the Israeli public to release more than 130 hostages still in Gaza, including the bodies of many who are believed to be no longer alive.

The embattled prime minister also reiterated that he intends to order the Israeli army to enter Rafah, something the United States has warned it opposes without a firm plan that takes into account the safety of some 1.5 million Palestinians stationed there, many of whom have fled fighting in the far north. .


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Biden: A ceasefire in the Gaza Strip next Monday