US says Hamas proposes ‘changes’ to Gaza ceasefire plan

image source, Good pictures

image caption, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke after discussing Hamas’ response with Qatar’s prime minister in Doha.

  • author, Tom Bateman
  • stock, BBC State Correspondent
  • Report from Doha

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told Hamas it was “time to stop negotiating” after its leaders proposed “several changes” to the Gaza ceasefire and hostage release plan.

Speaking to reporters in Doha, he said some changes were “workable” and others not, but that the US and mediators Qatar and Egypt would “try to close this deal”.

Hamas said on Tuesday it was ready to “deal positively” with the process, but stressed the need for Israel to agree to a permanent ceasefire and a full withdrawal from Gaza.

The Israeli government did not comment, but an anonymous official said the Palestinian Authority’s response amounted to a denial.

Israel’s prime minister has yet to publicly endorse the proposal, which US President Joe Biden said the country offered when he outlined it 12 days ago.

But Mr Blinken said Benjamin Netanyahu “reaffirmed his commitment” during a meeting in Jerusalem on Monday.

Adding to the diplomatic pressure exerted by Washington, the UN Security Council also passed a resolution supporting the motion that day.

The BBC is part of the US Secretary of State’s travel press team for a visit to Qatar – a glitzy Gulf location that belies the sense of a regional crisis it is trying to resolve through a fast-paced diplomatic tour.

His country has played a key role in the crisis, hosting Hamas’ political offices for more than a decade and serving as a conduit for negotiations with Israel.

Mr Blinken was angered when he told a joint news conference that they were discussing changes demanded by Hamas to a US-backed cease-fire proposal.

“There was an agreement on the table almost identical to a proposal put forward by Hamas on May 6 – the whole world is behind it, an agreement accepted by Israel, and Hamas could have responded with one word: ‘yes’,” he said.

“Instead, Hamas waited almost two weeks and then proposed more changes, many of which were beyond the positions it had previously taken and accepted. As a result, the war that Hamas started…will continue, and people will suffer, Palestinians will suffer. Suffer, and Israelis will suffer.”

Mr Blinken did not clarify what changes Hamas was demanding, nor did a brief statement issued by the group on Tuesday evening.

The statement, however, reiterated its demand for Hamas to “completely cease its aggression against Gaza” and for the full withdrawal of Israeli forces.

A member of Hamas’ political bureau, Izzat al-Rishq, said the response was “responsible, serious and positive” and that it opened a “wide path” to reaching an agreement.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office did not release a recorded response.

But an anonymous Israeli official released a statement saying Hamas had “changed all the most important and most meaningful parameters” and “rejected the hostage release plan presented by President Biden.”

Mr Blinken said the US, along with Qatar and Egypt, would “try to close this deal” despite the setbacks.

“I hope those gaps can be bridged. But that doesn’t mean they can be bridged, because, ultimately, it’s up to Hamas to decide.”

Sheikh Mohammed said both Hamas and Israel must make some concessions.

“In recent times we have seen a change in this conflict and there is a clear and resolute call to end this war,” he noted.

Mr Blinken also said it was crucial to quickly develop plans for a “post-conflict day” in Gaza.

“In the coming weeks, we will present proposals for key elements of the ‘day after project’, including concrete ideas on how to manage governance, security, reconstruction,” he added.

image caption, Israeli forces carried out strikes in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday

The Israeli military launched a campaign in Gaza to wipe out Hamas in response to an unprecedented attack on southern Israel on October 7, during which approximately 1,200 people were killed and 251 taken hostage.

More than 37,200 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

A deal agreed in November saw Hamas release 105 hostages and about 240 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in exchange for a week-long ceasefire. Israel says 116 hostages are still being held, 41 of whom are presumed dead.

In a second phase, all remaining hostages will be released and all Israeli forces withdrawn from Gaza as part of a “permanent cessation of hostilities,” but the latter is still subject to further negotiations.

During the third phase, the remains of the dead hostages will be returned and a major reconstruction program for Gaza will begin.

While the White House has been trying to push the sides to advance a deal, Israel’s leadership remains deeply skeptical about it.

Far-right ministers are pressuring Mr Netanyahu to ignore Washington’s diplomacy. And they have threatened to withdraw from his ruling coalition and trigger the collapse of the US-backed plan if it goes ahead, assuming it surrenders to Hamas.

The Prime Minister undoubtedly voiced his support for the plan, which he admitted had been approved by his War Cabinet.

The actual Israeli proposal – said to be longer than the summary provided by Mr Biden – has not been made public and it is unclear whether it differs from what the president has communicated. It was delivered to Hamas days before Mr Biden’s speech.

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