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Israel-Hamas war: Hamas responds to Gaza cease-fire plan, US evaluating reply

BEIRUT (AP) — Hamas said Tuesday it had given mediators its response to the U.S.-backed Gaza ceasefire proposal, asking for some “amendments” to the deal. It appears the answer is far from outright acceptance that the United States has pushed for but kept negotiations alive for more than a year. an elusive stop to the eight-month war.

The foreign ministries of Qatar and Egypt – who played a key role mediators alongside the United States — confirmed receiving Hamas’ response and said mediators were studying it.

“We have received this response that Hamas provided to Qatar and Egypt, and we are currently evaluating it,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington.

Hamas spokesman Jihad Taha said the response included “amendments confirming the ceasefire, withdrawal, reconstruction and (prisoner) exchange.” Taha did not specify.

But while supporting the broad outlines of the deal, Hamas officials have expressed distrust over Israel’s implementation of its terms, particularly provisions calling for a definitive end to the fighting and a complete Israeli withdrawal from the deal. Gaza in exchange for the release of all hostages held by the militants. .

Although the United States has said Israel accepts the proposal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given mixed signals, saying Israel will not stop until its goal of destroying Hamas is achieved.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the region this week to try to pass the deal – his eighth visit since. Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 sparked Israeli campaign in Gaza. On Tuesday, he continued to pressure Hamas to accept the proposal, saying that the UN Security Council vote in favor made it known “as clearly as possible” that the world supported the plan.

“Everybody’s vote is valid except one, and that’s Hamas’s,” Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv after meeting with Israeli officials, hours before Hamas announced its response. He said Netanyahu reaffirmed his commitment to the proposal during their meeting Monday evening.

In a joint statement announcing they had submitted their response to Qatar and Egypt, Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group said they were ready to “act positively to achieve a agreement” and that their priority was to bring a “complete stop” to the war. A senior Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, told Lebanese Al-Mayadeen television that the group had “submitted some remarks on the proposal to the mediators,” without elaborating.

The proposal raised hopes of ending an eight-month conflict in which Israel’s bombings and ground offensives in Gaza have killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials, and driven from their homes around 80% of the 2.3 million inhabitants. Israeli restrictions and ongoing fighting have hampered efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to the isolated coastal enclave, fueling widespread hunger.

Israel launched its campaign, vowing to eliminate Hamas, after the group and other militants stormed into Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 hostages. More than 100 hostages were freed last year during a week-long ceasefire in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Later Tuesday, Blinken attended a Gaza aid conference in Jordan, where he announced more than $400 million in additional aid for Palestinians in Gaza and the broader region, bringing aid U.S. total to more than $674 million over the past eight months.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told the meeting that the amount of aid going to the United Nations in Gaza for distribution has fallen by two-thirds since Israel launched an offensive in the city of Rafah, in the south of the territory, in early May.

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

In another development, the UN human rights office said Israeli forces and Palestinian activists may have committed war crimes during the deadly Israeli raid which saved four hostages this weekend. At least 274 Palestinians were killed during the operationaccording to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

Blinken, who was in Cairo on Monday, was also expected to travel to Qatar – where talks would likely focus on next steps towards a deal.

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

The proposal, announced by President Joe Biden last month, calls for a three-phase 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 home. Hamas still holds around 120 hostages, a third of whom are believed to be dead.

The first phase also requires the safe distribution of humanitarian aid “on a large scale throughout the Gaza Strip,” which Biden said would lead to 600 aid trucks entering Gaza each day.

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

The third phase would launch “a major multi-year plan for the reconstruction of Gaza and the return to their families of the remains of all deceased hostages still in Gaza.”

The activist group adopted a similar proposal last month that was rejected by Israel.

Biden presented it as an Israeli proposal, but Netanyahu publicly disputed key aspects of it, saying parts were left out by Biden. The contradictory signals seem reflect Netanyahu’s political dilemma. His far-right allies rejected the proposal and threatened to overthrow his government if he ended the war without destroying Hamas.

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

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

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

Blinken said the proposal would result in an immediate ceasefire and commit the parties to negotiating a lasting one. “The ceasefire that would take place immediately would remain in effect, which is clearly beneficial for everyone. And then we’ll have to see,” Blinken said.

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Sewell reported from Beirut.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the Gaza war at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

News Source : apnews.com
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