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Biden hopes for ceasefire in days as Israelis, Hamas take part in Qatar talks

Updated: 11:45am (AEDT)
Jerusalem/Cairo, Egypt


US President Joe Biden said he hopes to have a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza by next Monday as the warring parties appeared to close in on a deal during negotiations in Qatar that also aim to broker the release of hostages.

The presence of both sides for so-called proximity talks – meeting mediators separately while in the same city – suggested negotiations were further along than at any time since a big push at the start of February, when Israel rejected a Hamas counter-offer for a four-and-a-half-month truce.

Palestinians walk past destroyed houses, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Jabalia refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, on 22nd February, 2024. PICTURE: Reuters/Mahmoud Issa/File photo

US President Joe Biden said he hoped a ceasefire would start within days.

“Well I hope by the beginning of the weekend, by the end of the weekend,” he said, when asked later on Monday when he expected a ceasefire to start.

“My national security adviser tells me that we’re close. We’re close. We’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire,” Biden told reporters during a visit to New York.

In public, both sides continued to take positions far apart on the ultimate aims of a truce, while blaming each other for holding up the talks.

After meeting Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Ismail Haniyeh, the reclusive head of Hamas, said his group had embraced mediators’ efforts to find an end to the war, and accused Israel of stalling while Gazans die under siege.

“We will not allow the enemy to use negotiations as a cover for this crime,” he said.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was ready for a deal, and it was now up to Hamas to drop demands he described as “outlandish” and “from another planet”.

“Obviously, we want this deal if we can have it. It depends on Hamas. It’s really now their decision,” he told U.S. network Fox News. “They have to come down to reality.”

Al Thani’s office said Al Thani and the Hamas chief had discussed Qatar’s efforts to broker an “immediate and permanent ceasefire agreement in the Gaza Strip”.

Earlier, a source told Reuters that an Israeli working delegation, made up of staff from the military and the Mossad spy agency, had flown to Qatar, tasked with creating an operational centre to support negotiations there. Its mission would include vetting proposed Palestinian militants that Hamas wants freed as part of a hostage release deal, the source said.

Israel continues to maintain in public that it will not end the war until Hamas is eradicated, while Hamas says it will not free hostages without an agreement on an end to the war.

“We’re totally committed to wipe Hamas off the face of the Earth,” Israel’s economy and industry minister, Nir Barkat, told Reuters at a conference in the United Arab Emirates, where his presence signalled Israel’s continued acceptance by Arab states that has angered Palestinian militants.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters on Monday any ceasefire agreement would require “securing an end to the aggression, the withdrawal of the occupation, the returning of the displaced, the entry of aid, shelter equipment, and rebuilding”.

Israel is under pressure from its main ally the United States to agree on a truce soon, to head off a threatened Israeli assault on Rafah, the city in southern Gaza where over half the enclave’s 2.3 million people are sheltering, which Washington fears could become a bloodbath.

Demonstrators take part in a rally calling for the release of hostages kidnapped in the deadly 7th October attack on Israel by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas from Gaza, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on 26th February, 2024. PICTURE: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

“We’ll go in”
Netanyahu insisted that the assault on Rafah was still planned, and Israel had a plan to evacuate civilians from harm’s way. Asked if Israel would attack the city even if Washington asked it not to, Netanyahu said: “Well, we’ll go in. We make our own decisions, obviously, but we’ll go in based on the idea of having also the evacuation of the civilians.”

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But the momentum behind talks appears to have grown since Friday, when Israeli officials discussed terms of a hostage release deal in Paris with delegations from the United States, Egypt and Qatar, though not Hamas.

The White House said they had come to “an understanding” about the contours of a hostage deal though negotiations were still under way. The Israeli delegation briefed Netanyahu’s war cabinet late on Saturday.

Egyptian security sources said proximity talks involving delegations from Israel and Hamas would be held this week, first in Qatar and later in Cairo.

Since Hamas killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages in its 7th October attack, Israel launched an all-out ground assault on Gaza, with nearly 30,000 people confirmed killed according to Gaza health authorities.

– Additional reporting by ALI SAWAFTA in Ramallah and ANDREW MILLS in Qatar


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