Israel Says 40-Days Truce OK, But Hamas Must Surrender, Or War Goes On.

Photo: Unsplash. A man waves a Palestinian flag.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel will not accept Hamas’s demands for a permanent end to Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza if  that would leave Hamas in power in Gaza.

This was said  as negotiators were resuming talks in Egypt to broker a pause in Israel’s Gaza offensive in return for the release of hostages taken by Hamas, a deal which US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described as “a no brainer” for Hamas.

The main sticking point appears to be if the truce will be permanent – as Hamas insists – or not.

Mr Netanyahu said the proposed deal would keep Hamas in control of Gaza, posing a threat to Israel.

It is thought the wording being discussed in the Cairo talks involves a 40-day pause in fighting while hostages are released, and the release of a number of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.

An adviser to the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the group was looking at the latest proposal with “full seriousness”.

But he repeated a demand that any deal would have to explicitly include an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and complete end to the war.

A deal is on the table, in which some 33 of the remaining 132 hostages would be freed over 40 days, in what would be the first phase of a three-part deal.

Hamas had reportedly agreed to the first phase, which would include a pause to the war, without an agreement to end the war, with the understanding that such a step would happen later in the process.

Netanyahu, however, has clarified, including on Sunday, that he has no intention of relenting on the issue of a permanent ceasefire until Hamas has been destroyed. That, he says,  can not happen until the IDF executes a military operation in Rafah (or Hamas surrenders).

Speaking on Sunday, Mr Netanyahu said: “We are not ready to accept a situation in which the Hamas battalions come out of their bunkers, take control of Gaza again, rebuild their military infrastructure, and return to threatening the citizens of Israel in the surrounding communities, in the cities of the south, in all parts of the country.”

“Israel will not agree to Hamas’ demands,” he added.

Separately, an anonymous Israeli government official told local media on Saturday that Israel would “under no circumstances agree to end the war as part of an agreement to free our abductees”.

They added: “The IDF will enter Rafah and destroy the remaining Hamas battalions there – whether there is a temporary pause to free our captives or not.”

Mr Netanyahu has faced pressure from within his far-right coalition to press ahead with the long-promised offensive in Gaza’s southern-most city, where an estimated 1.4 million people have taken shelter after fleeing fighting in northern and central parts of the strip.

The US – Israel’s biggest diplomatic and military ally – is reluctant to back a new offensive that could cause significant civilian casualties, and has insisted on seeing a plan to protect displaced Palestinians first.

The Israeli government also faces mounting pressure at home. Thousands of Israelis rallied Saturday night calling for a deal to bring hostages home.

Protesters in Tel Aviv chanted “war is not holy, life is”, with some accusing Mr Netanyahu of aiming to prolong the conflict in Gaza.

What is the real negotiating position of either side, and what is simply posturing is impossible for observers to determine.

Certainly Saturday’s demonstrations in Israel show the level of impatience  Mr Netanyahu is facing at home to secure the return of the remaining live hostages, which was always stated to be one of the purposes of the war.

Of the 252 who were kidnapped by Hamas on 7 October, 128 are still unaccounted for – and among them, at least 34 are presumed dead.

Natalie Eldor, a protester in Tel Aviv, told Reuters news agency she was there to “support a deal now, yesterday”.

“We need to bring all the hostages back, the live ones, the dead ones. We got to bring them back. We got to switch this government,” she added.

Some who gathered at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv accused the prime minister of undermining the proposed truce, while others called for an end to the war.

Addressing the prospects of a truce on Saturday, minister Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, said: “An official response to the outline has not yet been received. When accepted – the war management cabinet will meet and discuss it.

“Until then, I suggest to the ‘political sources’ and all decision-makers to wait for official updates, to act calmly and not to get into hysteria for political reasons.”

Ceasefire talks have gone on for months without a breakthrough, and there has not been a pause in fighting or a release of hostages since the end of November.

There have been moments at which a new agreement has seemed imminent – only to fall through before being signed.

A source familiar with this latest round of discussions told the BBC that the negotiations were still complex, and any breakthrough could still take several days.

Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations’ World Food Programme has warned that northern Gaza is now experiencing a “full-blown famine”.

Cindy McCain warned the catastrophic situation in the territory was spreading south in an interview with US media.

“What we are asking for and what we’ve continually asked for is a ceasefire and the ability to have unfettered access to get in safe,” Ms McCain said.

The war began after hundreds of Hamas troops stormed across Gaza’s border into Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people and taking more than 250 hostages. The group is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by many Western countries, but up to the time of this atrocity was regarded by Israel as the de facto government of Gaza.

During the subsequent Israeli military campaign in Gaza, more than 34,600 Palestinians have been killed and over 77,900 wounded, according to figures from the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

The number of Hamas soldiers killed as a proportion of the whole has never been revealed, but it is widely known that the Isrealis have killed thousands of Palestinian women and children, most of whom are presumed to be noncombatants.

Source: BBC News, VOA, Jerusalem Post.
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