Israel-Hamas War Ceasefire Talks: Live Updates

Hamas has been in the spotlight in Jerusalem, Washington and elsewhere, with officials waiting to see how it responds to a proposal backed by the United States and Israel for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

The proposal, which follows nearly seven months of devastating war, includes the release of hostages held by Hamas and Palestinian prisoners in Israel and the return of civilians to northern Gaza, where the population has been drastically reduced. ing. It would also allow for increased provision of aid to the region.

Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan said on Wednesday: “Our position on the current negotiating text is negative.”

But Hamas’ news agency later said his comments, made in an interview on Al-Manar, a Lebanese television channel owned by Hamas’ ally Hezbollah, were not a complete rejection. The secretariat said some changes would have to be made for Hamas to agree, but it did not provide specifics, but said negotiations would continue.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who visited Israel on Wednesday, placed the responsibility for accepting the offer squarely on Hamas. “We are determined to achieve a cease-fire now that will bring the hostages home, and the only reason that will not happen is because of Hamas,” he said.

But Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “no political excuse” for not reaching an early deal.

Complex negotiations dragged on for months, with each item moved and several others changed. Further complicating matters, Israel and the United States do not speak directly to Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization, but instead communicate through intermediary officials in Qatar and Egypt.

A seemingly intractable conundrum is Israel’s planned ground attack on Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip. Approximately 1 million people have fled their homes in Rafah from other parts of the territory.

“If the enemy carries out Operation Rafah, the negotiations will be halted,” Hamdan told Al Manar on Wednesday. “The Resistance does not negotiate under fire.”

The Biden administration has been pressuring the Israeli government to abandon the idea of ​​large-scale invasions of cities and instead rely on surgical operations to kill or capture Hamas leaders and fighters.

But Israeli officials have consistently said emphatically that an attack will take place. Far-right parties in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition have hinted that they may leave his government if he calls off the attacks, which could topple the government and force new elections.

“We will enter Rafah and eliminate the Hamas battalions that are there to achieve complete victory, with or without an agreement,” Netanyahu said in a statement released on Tuesday.

Hamas has maintained that any agreement is a permanent cease-fire rather than a cessation of fighting, but Israel has rejected this position as a Hamas play to re-establish itself as a governing and military force. The Biden administration is hopeful that a six-week cessation of war could be the first step toward a permanent end to the fighting.

Israel softened some of its positions this week. As a first step to a ceasefire, the two sides agreed to allow Palestinians to return en masse to northern Gaza. Israel had previously advocated for testing of returnees and entry restrictions.

One Israeli official said there were no tests or restrictions on people returning to the north, while another official said there were few restrictions, without providing details. The officials provided details of the proposal on condition of anonymity.

Israel also issued a request to Hamas to release 40 hostages (female civilians and female soldiers, sick and elderly) after Hamas indicated that there were no more hostages alive in these categories. Withdrawn. The latest proposal would lower that number to 33. It is unclear how many Palestinians Israel is offering to release in exchange.

According to the Israeli government, about 250 people were kidnapped and taken back to Gaza in the October 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel. More than 100 people were released during a week-long ceasefire in November, and Israeli officials said they believe more than 30 people, and possibly more, were killed.

Israel said about 1,200 people were killed in the Oct. 7 attack. Gaza health officials said that more than 34,000 people had been killed and many more injured in subsequent Israeli bombings and invasions. Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced, and more than 1 million people are suffering from devastating food insecurity. According to the United Nations.

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