Saturday, May 25, 2024

US says reviewing Hamas response to Gaza ceasefire proposal, opposes Rafah invasion

The United States has announced it is reviewing Hamas's response to a Gaza ceasefire proposal, while refusing to provide any details about the deal or what exactly the Palestinian group has agreed to.

Officials at the White House and Department of State were tight-lipped about the ceasefire talks on Monday, but they reasserted that the release of Israeli captives in Gaza remains a top priority for the US.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Washington will “withhold judgement” on Hamas’s response to the deal until it has time to fully review it.

“I can confirm that Hamas has issued a response. We are reviewing that response now and discussing it with our partners in the region,” he added.

Miller declined to say whether Hamas agreed to a US-backed offer or to a different version of the proposal.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has been pushing for a temporary ceasefire for months, arguing that such an agreement would get Israeli captives out of Gaza, allow for more aid to enter the territory and provide a chance for a lasting solution to the war.

Hamas had announced earlier on Monday that it informed Egyptian and Qatari mediators of its agreement to a deal proposed by the two countries.

Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya later told Al Jazeera Arabic that the agreement would include three phases, starting with a halt in the fighting that would allow people in Gaza to move freely within the territory.

It would end with the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, a permanent ceasefire and the reconstruction of the enclave.

The three interconnected stages, al-Hayya said, would all see exchanges of Israeli captives in Gaza and Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

He added that the ball is now in Israel’s court, stating, “We have put forward what we have. We have put forward our positive stance and agreement to the proposal.”

CIA Director Bill Burns has been in the region since Friday to help advance the ceasefire talks, but it is not clear whether he endorsed the deal that Hamas accepted.

Israel’s war cabinet announced it would engage in further talks to discuss the proposal, but it added that Israel’s military will push on with its operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, despite growing international concern for the civilians sheltering there.

“Israel’s war cabinet has unanimously decided that Israel will continue the operation in Rafah to exert military pressure on Hamas in order to advance the release of our hostages, destroy Hamas military and governing capabilities and ensure that Gaza does not pose a threat to Israel in the future,” an Israeli government spokesperson said in a statement.

“Meanwhile, even though the Hamas proposal is far from Israel’s necessary requirements, Israel will send a delegation to mediators to exhaust the possibility of reaching an agreement under conditions acceptable to Israel,” the spokesperson added.

Biden also held a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday and stressed US opposition to a ground offensive in Rafah.

“The president reiterated his clear position on Rafah,” the White House announced in a statement.

More than 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering in Rafah, which also serves as the main gateway for humanitarian aid entering Gaza.

But the Israeli military has stepped up its bombardment of the city and ordered about 100,000 people in eastern Rafah to evacuate.

On Monday, Miller stated the US opposition to an assault on Rafah is separate from the push for a ceasefire.

“We cannot support an operation in Rafah as it is currently envisioned,” the State Department spokesperson said, adding that the US has not seen a credible plan to protect the civilians trapped in the city.

“Even absent this latest response [by Hamas], we have made clear that we do not support Israel launching a full-scale military operation in Rafah.”

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby also told reporters on Monday that “nothing changed” in the US stance towards an Israeli assault on Rafah.

“The president was very direct — and consistently so — this morning that we don’t want to see major ground operations in Rafah that put these people at greater risk,” Kirby added.

Still, Kirby stressed that US support for Israel’s security “remains ironclad”. Last month, Biden approved more than $14bn in additional military aid to Israel.

Palestinian rights advocates have argued that mere verbal criticism of Israeli policies is not enough, and they have called on Biden to instead cut off military support to the US ally.

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