Hamas accepts ceasefire proposal of Egypt, Qatar

The Israeli military said it was conducting “targeted strikes” against Hamas in eastern Rafah. The nature of the strikes was not immediately known, but the move appeared aimed at keeping the pressure on as talks continue…reports Asian Lite News

Hamas announced its acceptance Monday of an Egyptian-Qatari ceasefire proposal, but Israel said the deal did not meet its “core demands” and that it was pushing ahead with an assault on the southern Gaza town of Rafah. Still, Israel said it would continue negotiations.

The high-stakes diplomatic moves and military brinkmanship left a glimmer of hope alive — but only barely — for an accord that could bring at least a pause in the 7-month-old war that has devastated the Gaza Strip. Hanging over the wrangling was the threat of an all-out Israeli assault on Rafah, a move the United States strongly opposes and that aid groups warn will be disastrous for some 1.4 million Palestinians taking refuge there.

Hamas’s abrupt acceptance of the ceasefire deal came hours after Israel ordered an evacuation of some 100,000 Palestinians from eastern neighborhoods of Rafah, signaling an invasion was imminent.

Israel’s War Cabinet decided to continue the Rafah operation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said. At the same time, it said that while the proposal Hamas agreed to “is far from meeting Israel’s core demands,” it would send negotiators to Egypt to work on a deal.

The Israeli military said it was conducting “targeted strikes” against Hamas in eastern Rafah. The nature of the strikes was not immediately known, but the move appeared aimed at keeping the pressure on as talks continue.

President Joe Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reiterated US concerns about an invasion of Rafah. US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said American officials were reviewing the Hamas response “and discussing it with our partners in the region.” An American official said the US was examining whether what Hamas agreed to was the version signed off to by Israel and international negotiators or something else.

It was not immediately known if the proposal Hamas agreed to was substantially different from one that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed the militant group to accept last week, which Blinken said included significant Israeli concessions.

Egyptian officials said that proposal called for a ceasefire of multiple stages starting with a limited hostage release and partial Israeli troop pullbacks within Gaza. The two sides would also negotiate a “permanent calm” that would lead to a full hostage release and greater Israeli withdrawal out of the territory, they said.

Hamas sought clearer guarantees for its key demand of an end to the war and complete Israeli withdrawal in return for the release of all hostages, but it wasn’t clear if any changes were made.

Israeli leaders have repeatedly rejected that trade-off, vowing to keep up their campaign until Hamas is destroyed after its Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war.

Netanyahu is under pressure from hard-line partners in his coalition who demand an attack on Rafah and could collapse his government if he signs onto a deal. But he also faces pressure from the families of hostages to reach a deal for their release.

Thousands of Israelis rallied around the country Monday night calling for an immediate agreement. About a thousand protesters swelled near the defense headquarters in Tel Aviv, where police tried to clear the road. In Jerusalem, about a hundred protesters marched toward Netanyahu’s residence with a banner reading, “The blood is on your hands.”

Israel says Rafah is the last significant Hamas stronghold in Gaza, and Netanyahu said Monday that the offensive against the town was vital to ensuring the militants can’t rebuild their military capabilities.

But he faces strong American opposition. Miller said Monday the US has not seen a credible and implementable plan to protect Palestinian civilians. “We cannot support an operation in Rafah as it is currently envisioned,” he said.

The looming operation has raised global alarm. Aid agencies have warned that an offensive will bring a surge of more civilian deaths in an Israeli campaign that has already killed 34,000 people and devastated the territory. It could also wreck the humanitarian aid operation based out of Rafah that is keeping Palestinians across the Gaza Strip alive, they say.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on Monday called the evacuation order “inhumane.”

“Gazans continue to be hit with bombs, disease, and even famine. And today, they have been told that they must relocate yet again,” he said. “It will only expose them to more danger and misery.”

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