Hamas Delivers Positive Response to Proposed Gaza Ceasefire Deal
On Tuesday, the Palestinian militant group Hamas announced that it had provided its response to a proposed ceasefire deal for Gaza, which includes the release of hostages. The United States expressed optimism, stating it believed an agreement was still possible.
Details of Hamas’ response were not immediately disclosed. In a statement, Hamas expressed a commitment to a comprehensive ceasefire, ending aggression against their people, providing relief, shelter, and reconstruction, lifting the Gaza Strip siege, and achieving a prisoner swap. Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official, conveyed the group’s desire for the release of a substantial number of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
The Israeli prime minister’s office reported that the details of Hamas’ response were undergoing thorough evaluation by officials involved in the negotiations.
During his Middle East tour, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, set to visit Israel on Wednesday, acknowledged the ongoing negotiations and expressed belief in the possibility and necessity of reaching an agreement. However, U.S. President Joe Biden, in Washington, described the Hamas response as “a little over the top,” emphasizing the need for continued negotiations.
In Doha, Blinken, after receiving the Hamas response, stated that there is still work to be done but remained optimistic about the possibility of an agreement. Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani characterized the Hamas response as “positive” but refrained from providing specific details.
An anonymous Hamas official emphasized that the group would not allow hostage releases without guarantees of an end to the war and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.
The proposed deal, formulated more than a week ago, aims to secure the release of remaining hostages held by Gaza militants in exchange for a prolonged pause in fighting. The truce, anticipated to last at least 40 days, includes phases for the release of civilians, soldiers, and the return of the bodies of hostages, reciprocated by releases of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.
Despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s commitment to continue until Hamas is eradicated, there is a growing movement in Israel advocating for efforts to bring hostages home, even if it entails a deal with Hamas.
According to Israel’s chief military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, 31 of the remaining hostages held in Gaza have been pronounced dead. Israeli assessments suggest that up to 50 hostages may be dead, leaving approximately 80 still alive.
The military offensive in Gaza, initiated after an attack by Hamas-led militants on southern Israel in October, has resulted in thousands of Palestinian casualties. While Israel presses on with its offensive, Palestinians hope for a diplomatic resolution before Israeli forces advance further into the southern town of Rafah, where a significant portion of Gaza’s population seeks refuge.
As relentless pressure persists, Israeli forces continue their efforts in Khan Younis, the main southern city. Aerial and tank bombardments have caused casualties, and Rafah, housing displaced civilians, has also faced air strikes and tank shelling.
As the situation remains dire, international aid agencies express concerns about the safety of a million displaced civilians in Rafah. Mahmoud Amer, a displaced resident, highlighted the difficult conditions faced by the living, juxtaposed against the perceived comfort of the dead in a cemetery in Rafah. The ongoing diplomatic efforts and the response from both sides are critical factors influencing the trajectory of the conflict in Gaza.