Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Gaza Ceasefire: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Rejects Hamas' Proposed Terms

  • Lyse Doucet, Chief International Correspondent & Kathryn Armstrong
  • BBC News, London

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“We are heading for complete victory,” says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected Hamas' proposed ceasefire terms – saying a “total victory” in Gaza is possible within months.

He spoke after Hamas made a series of demands in response to an Israeli-backed cease-fire proposal.

Mr Netanyahu said talks with the group were “going nowhere” and described their terms as “weird”.

Negotiations are underway to reach an agreement.

“There is no solution other than total and final victory,” Mr Netanyahu told a press conference on Wednesday.

“If Hamas survives in Gaza, it's only a question of time until the next massacre.”

Israel was expected to complicate Hamas's counter-offer, but the response was a flat condemnation, and Israeli officials clearly find Hamas's attempt to end the war on its terms completely unacceptable.

A senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, told Reuters news agency that Mr Netanyahu's comments were “a form of political bravado” and showed he wanted to continue the conflict in the region.

A new round of talks mediated by Egypt and Qatar is expected to continue in Cairo on Thursday, an Egyptian official told the BBC.

Egypt called on all parties to show the necessary flexibility to reach a peaceful agreement, the source said.

And Mr Netanyahu dismissed the plan as an “illusion”, in stark contrast to Qatar's comments, which described Hamas's response as “positive”.

A draft of the Hamas document seen by Reuters lists these terms:

  • First phase: A 45-day pause in fighting will see all Israeli female hostages, men under the age of 19, elderly and sick Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons be transferred. Israeli forces will withdraw from populated areas of Gaza, and rehabilitation of hospitals and refugee camps will begin.
  • Second Phase: The remaining male Israeli hostages will be transferred to Palestinian prisoners and Israeli forces will withdraw completely from Gaza.
  • Third Phase: Both sides exchanged remains and bodies.

The proposed deal would increase the delivery of food and other aid to Gaza. At the end of the 135-day pause in fighting, Hamas said negotiations to end the war would have ended.

A Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 last year killed around 1,300 people.

According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, Israel's retaliatory war has killed more than 27,700 Palestinians and wounded at least 65,000.

Israeli forces push into Rafah

Mr Netanyahu confirmed on Wednesday that Israeli forces had been ordered to prepare for action in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where tens of thousands of Palestinians have fled the fighting.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that expanding the conflict in Rafah would “exponentially escalate what is already a humanitarian nightmare” in the city.

“We fear the invasion of Rafah,” one displaced person told BBC Arabic at the Rafah crossing, near the border with Egypt.

“We sleep in fear, we sit in fear, there is no food, the weather is cold.”

The Israeli leader's comments were a blow to America's continued push to reach a deal that top US diplomat Anthony Blinken described as “the best way forward”. “.

During a news conference on Wednesday, Mr Blinken said there were “some clear starters” in Hamas's counter-plan. But, he added: “We think this creates space to reach an agreement and we will work relentlessly until we get there.”

Sharon Lifshitz, who was among those abducted in southern Israel on October 7 and taken to Gaza, told the BBC's Newshour program that Mr Netanyahu's rejection of Hamas ceasefire terms was “definitely a death sentence for more hostages”.

Ms Lifshitz's 85-year-old mother, Yocheved, has since been released, but her father, Odette, remains in captivity.

“My own father is 83 years old, he is frail and he will not last long,” he said.

“I don't know if the Prime Minister is thinking of him or if he already thinks he's the one coming back in the coffin.”

Mr Netanyahu's stance highlights the continuing, fundamental mismatch between the US and Israel over the future of Gaza.

He insists on an institution where Israel maintains overall security control, and Gaza is run by local organizations that have no ties to Hamas or any other group.

Washington's vision of the future has a horizon with a Palestinian state.

The urgent question now is whether anything can be salvaged to continue these talks, to achieve another exchange of hostages and prisoners, to allow more aid into the Gaza Strip, to achieve a humanitarian pause.

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