Biden presents new Israel ceasefire plan, calls on Hamas to accept

Northern Gaza Strip, May 31, 2024. Photo: Reuters/Mahmoud Issa

Washington: US President Joe Biden on Friday said Israel had proposed a Gaza ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages, and called on Hamas to agree to the new offer, saying it was the best way to end the conflict.
"It's time for this war to end and for the day after to begin," said Biden, who is under election-year pressure to stop the Gaza conflict, now in its eighth month.

Talks mediated by Egypt, Qatar and others to arrange a ceasefire between Israel and the militant Hamas movement in the Gaza war have repeatedly stalled, with both sides blaming the other for the lack of progress. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli prime minister's office or from Hamas on Biden's remarks.

The new proposal Biden laid out on Friday is made up of three phases; the first would be a ceasefire lasting for six weeks.
During this time, Israeli forces would withdraw from Gaza and hostages, including the elderly and women, would be exchanged for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Palestinian civilians would return to Gaza, including northern Gaza, and 600 trucks would bring humanitarian aid into Gaza each day, Biden said.

In the second phase, Hamas and Israel would negotiate terms of a permanent end to hostilities. "The ceasefire will still continue as long as negotiations continue," the president said. The third phase would include a major reconstruction plan for Gaza.
The proposal has been relayed to Hamas by Qatar, Biden said.

Joe Biden. Photo: Reuters

The president called on those in Israel who were pushing for "indefinite" war to change their minds. "I know there are those in Israel who will not agree with this plan. And will call for the war to continue indefinitely. Some are even in the government coalition. They've made it clear. They want to occupy Gaza. They want to keep fighting for years and hostages are not a priority for them. Well, I've urged leadership in Israel to stand behind this deal, despite whatever pressure comes," Biden said.

"As someone who's had a lifelong commitment to Israel, as the only American president who has ever gone to Israel at a time of war, as someone who just sent the U.S. forces to directly defend Israel when it was attacked by Iran, I ask you to take a step back, think what will happen if this moment is lost," he said. "We can't lose this moment."

Several Israeli media outlets described Biden's speech on Friday as dramatic and interpreted it as an attempt to appeal directly to the Israeli public. Leading Channel 12 interrupted its evening news show to carry Biden's speech live. Israel's censor had previously banned publication of the offer's details, anchor Danny Kushmaro said.

An earlier hostage proposal put forward this year called for the release of sick, elderly and wounded hostages in Gaza in exchange for a six-week ceasefire that could be extended to allow for more aid to be delivered into the enclave.

A woman carries belongings on her head, as Palestinians inspect the damage after Israeli forces withdrew from Jabalia refugee camp, following a raid, in the northern Gaza Strip on May 31, 2024. Photo: Reuters/Mahmoud Issa

That proposed deal fell apart earlier this month after Israel refused to agree to Hamas' demand for a permanent end to the war as part of the negotiations and ramped up an assault on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza.

Hamas said on Thursday it had told mediators it would not take part in more negotiations during ongoing aggression but was ready for a "complete agreement," including an exchange of hostages and prisoners, if Israel stopped the war. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan would meet on Friday with diplomats from 17 countries who have citizens held hostage in Gaza by Hamas.
Israel will not agree to any halt in fighting that is not part of a deal that includes the return of surviving hostages, a senior Israeli security official said on Friday.

The week has been dominated by the fallout from an Israeli airstrike in Rafah on Sunday that killed 45 Palestinians. "The Palestinian people have endured sheer hell in this war," Biden said on Friday. "We all saw the terrible images from the deadly fire in Rafah earlier this week, following an Israeli strike ... targeting Hamas."

On Tuesday, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said that recent Israeli ground operations in Rafah would not prompt a U.S. withdrawal of more military aid. Palestinian health authorities estimate more than 36,280 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel attacked the enclave in response to an Oct. 7 Hamas assault in southern Israel. The Hamas attack killed around 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies.

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