US eyes Israel-Hamas ceasefire by next week

A new ceasefire between Israel and Hamas could start as soon as Monday and last through Ramadan, US President Joe Biden said, in a deal that would also free dozens of hostages held in Gaza.

In the protracted bid to broker a truce, mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been putting proposals to the warring parties, with negotiations still ongoing.

They are seeking a six-week halt to the fighting and the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel sparked the war.

The truce deal could include the release of several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel, media reports suggest.

“My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire,” Biden said in response to a question about when a truce might start, adding: “We’re close, we’re not done yet.”

He later said an agreement “in principle” was in reach for a temporary truce to last through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.

“There’s been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out,” Biden said.

Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani — whose country hosts Hamas leaders and helped broker a one-week truce in November — is due in Paris Tuesday, according to the French presidency.

Sheikh Tamim has met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Doha as part of his bid for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire agreement”, the official Qatar News Agency said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stressed that any truce would delay, not prevent, a ground invasion of Rafah in the far south of the Gaza Strip, which he said was necessary to achieve “total victory” over Hamas.

There has been huge international pressure, including from the United States, for Israel to hold off on sending troops into Rafah, where an estimated 1.4 million Palestinian civilians have sought refuge from the fighting.

Netanyahu’s office said on Monday that the military had shown the war cabinet its plan for moving civilians out from Rafah, but no details have been released on where those displaced people might go.

– ‘Final nail in coffin’ –

UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that any assault on Rafah, the entry point to Gaza for desperately needed relief supplies, would “put the final nail in the coffin” of aid operations.

“Nothing can justify Hamas’s deliberate killing, injuring, torturing and kidnapping of civilians” and “nothing justifies the collective punishment of the Palestinian people,” Guterres said on Monday.

Ahead of the threatened ground incursion, Rafah has been hit repeatedly by Israeli air strikes.

Displaced Gazan Sharif Muammar told AFP his son’s body was pulled from the rubble after one such strike on the city.

“There was no one here — only children,” he said, in tears.

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said 96 people had been killed in the past 24 hours.

The Hamas government said Israel had carried out more than 52 strikes, with Rafah and the other main southern city of Khan Yunis among the main targets.

The Israeli army said troops had carried out “targeted raids” in the Zeitun neighbourhood of central Gaza and other areas.

Several militants were “eliminated” inside a tunnel shaft in Zeitun, while troops also “apprehended a number of terrorists who tried to flee under the cover of the civilian population,” the army said.

Israel’s military campaign has killed at least 29,878 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry.

The Hamas attack that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Militants also took about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Netanyahu has faced increasing public pressure over the fate of hostages still held in Gaza, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.

Polls opened in Israel on Tuesday for delayed municipal elections which could gauge the public mood nearly five months into the war.

– Starving Gazans –

In northern Gaza, desperate Palestinians have scavenged for food as most aid trucks have been halted, with many people eating animal fodder and even leaves.

“We have no flour or anything. We are experiencing famine,” lamented Umm Tahseini al-Masry, a Palestinian displaced to the Jabalia refugee camp, north of Gaza City.

The Jordanian army said it carried out a series of humanitarian aid drops, while Human Rights Watch accused the Israeli government of starving Gaza’s 2.4 million people.

The main UN aid agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, said humanitarian assistance entering Gaza has halved in February from the previous month.

Israeli officials say they are allowing aid into Gaza but relief supplies have hit a logjam inside the territory.

“We are ready and willing to facilitate the entrance of tens if not hundreds of trucks, every day, but the flow on the Palestinian side of Kerem Shalom is fully loaded,” Colonel Moshe Tetro, head of the Israeli defence ministry body responsible for coordinating aid deliveries, said last week.

The Palestinian Red Crescent, which coordinates all of its missions in Gaza with Israeli authorities, said it was suspending its operations for 48 hours in response to their failure to ensure the safety of its emergency medical teams.

In the occupied West Bank, Israeli troops killed three Palestinians in a raid on the Faraa refugee camp, the Palestinian health ministry said.

The territory has seen a surge in violence since the Gaza war began, with at least 403 Palestinians killed by troops or settlers, according to the ministry.


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