General News

Israel Gaza: Biden hopes for ceasefire by next week –

Watch: Biden spoke to reporters at an ice cream shop in New York

US President Joe Biden says he hopes to have a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza by Monday.

His comments come amid reports of some progress in indirect negotiations involving Israeli and Hamas officials.

It would involve aid deliveries to Gaza and the release of more hostages taken during the 7 October Hamas attacks.

Israel has not commented and Hamas officials have indicated the two sides are not as close to a ceasefire deal as Mr Biden suggested.

Qatar, which has been mediating in the talks alongside Egypt, said they were “pushing hard” for a deal and felt “optimistic”, but had nothing to announce.

Israel launched a large-scale air and ground campaign in Gaza after Hamas gunmen killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel.

The attackers also took 253 people hostage, a number of whom have since been released.

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip says at least 29,878 people have been killed in the territory since then – including 96 deaths in the past 24 hours – in addition to 70,215 who have been wounded.

According to Reuters news agency, quoting an unnamed source close to the talks, Hamas is still studying a draft framework, drawn by France, which would include a 40-day pause in all military operations and the exchange of Palestinians held in Israeli jails for Israeli hostages, at a ratio of 10 to one.

“We’re close,” President Biden told reporters in New York on Monday. “We’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.”

On NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers” which was broadcast later, the president said Israel would be willing to pause its assault during Ramadan if a deal was reached.

The Islamic holy month begins around 10 March.

“Ramadan’s coming up and there has 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,” Mr Biden said.

However, a Hamas official told the BBC: “The priority for us in Hamas is not the exchange of detainees, but the cessation of the war.

“It is not logical, after all this loss of life and property, to accept any offer that does not lead to a complete ceasefire, the return of the displaced, and the reconstruction of Gaza.”

Last week, the US – Israel’s main ally – was widely criticised for vetoing a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Instead, it proposed its own resolution for a temporary ceasefire “as soon as practicable”, which also warned Israel not to invade the southern Gazan city of Rafah “under current circumstances”.

Israel has faced mounting international pressure not to launch an offensive in Rafah, where about 1.5m Palestinians are sheltering, most having fled fighting further north in the territory.

“There are too many innocent people that are being killed,” Mr Biden said on Late Night With Seth Meyers. “And Israel has slowed down the attacks in Rafah. They have to. And they’ve made a commitment to me they’re going to see to it that there is ability to evacuate significant portions of Rafah before they go and take out the remainder of Hamas.”

On Sunday, the Israeli prime minister’s office said it had received plans from its military to evacuate civilians from areas including Rafah.

Mr Netanyahu said in an interview with CBS on Sunday that Israeli forces would eventually launch an invasion of Rafah regardless of any agreement for a temporary ceasefire, insisting: “We can’t leave the last Hamas stronghold without taking care of it.”

“If we have a deal, it’ll be delayed somewhat,” he added. “But it’ll happen. If we don’t have a deal, we’ll do it anyway.”

In a separate development on Monday, Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh resigned along with his government, which runs parts of the occupied West Bank.

President Mahmoud Abbas accepted his decision, which could pave the way for a technocratic government.

Mr Abbas is under pressure from the US to reform the PA so it can govern Gaza after the Israel-Hamas war ends.

Last week, Mr Netanyahu presented a vision for the territory that made no mention of any role for the PA.