Israel surveys Hamas response to ceasefire plan

Israel has said it is considering Hamas’ response to the Gaza ceasefire plan that President Biden outlined in late May.

This came after Hamas’ political leadership said it had contacted mediators Egypt and Qatar “about ideas” which they have been discussing with a view to reaching an agreement.

So far, Hamas has demanded an end to the war and a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, while Israel has said it would only accept a temporary cessation of fighting until it has expelled Hamas.

A Palestinian official familiar with the negotiations told the BBC that Hamas was no longer insisting on a complete ceasefire at the start of the three-phase plan.

Biden said his plan was based on a more detailed Israeli proposal, with the first phase including a “full and complete ceasefire,” a withdrawal of IDF forces from populated areas and an exchange of hostages and Palestinian prisoners.

The second phase would be a “permanent cessation of hostilities,” and the third phase would involve the completion of a large-scale reconstruction program in the Gaza Strip and the return of the remains of hostages.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the Mossad intelligence agency issued a joint statement on Wednesday night, saying that an intermediary [Israeli] “Remarks by Hamas Negotiating Team on Outline of Hostage Deal”

“Israel is considering the remarks and will convey its response to the intermediaries,” it added.

A senior Palestinian official told the BBC on Thursday that Hamas had abandoned its terms for a complete ceasefire, instead offering new conditions for an Israeli military withdrawal from the southern Gaza border area known as the Philadelphia Corridor and the Rafah crossing point that links Gaza with Egypt.

The source, who was informed of Hamas’ response to the intermediaries, added that the mood was positive. “We plan to move forward with a new round of negotiations soon,” the source said.

The United States has accused Hamas of obstructing progress towards a ceasefire.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Hamas was the “single exception” to international support for the ceasefire proposal. He said Hamas “created a gap by not supporting a proposal that was supported by everyone, including Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not publicly endorsed Biden’s outline or said whether it matched an Israeli proposal delivered to Hamas days before the president’s announcement.

The war was triggered by an unprecedented attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7, in which Hamas-led militants killed around 1,200 people and took 251 hostages back to Gaza.

At least 37,953 Palestinians have died in the Gaza Strip as a result of Israeli attacks, according to the Gaza Strip’s Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Hamas and allied militant groups are believed to still be holding 116 hostages they captured on October 7. Israeli officials estimate at least 42 people have been killed.

The rest have been released, rescued or their bodies recovered.

Four other Israelis have been held hostage since 2014 and 2015, two of whom are believed to have died.

Additional reporting by Rushdie Abu Arulouf

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