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Article: Hamas says it accepts UN-backed Gaza truce plan, US cites “hopeful sign”

Hamas says it accepts UN-backed Gaza truce plan, US cites “hopeful sign”

Hamas says it accepts UN-backed Gaza truce plan, US cites “hopeful sign”

PHOTO CAPTION: Palestinian fighters from the armed wing of Hamas take part in a military parade to mark the anniversary of the 2014 war with Israel, near the border in the central Gaza Strip, July 19, 2023. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

 

 

By Daphne Psaledakis and Nidal al-Mughrabi

TEL AVIV/CAIRO (Reuters) - Hamas accepts a U.N. resolution backing a plan to end the war with Israel in Gaza and is ready to negotiate details, a senior official of the Palestinian militant group said on Tuesday in what the U.S. Secretary of State called a hopeful sign.

But Qatari and Egyptian mediators have not received formal replies from Hamas or Israel to the U.N.-backed truce proposal, an official close to the talks told Reuters, and both sides suggested on Tuesday the plan fit their clashing goals, raising doubt whether any genuine headway towards a deal had been made.

Discussions also touching on post-war plans for Gaza will continue over the next couple of days, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Tel Aviv after talks with Israeli leaders.

Blinken met Israeli officials on Tuesday in a push to end the eight-month-old Israeli air and ground war against Hamas that has devastated Gaza, a day after President Joe Biden's proposal for a truce was approved by the U.N. Security Council.

Ahead of Blinken's trip, Israel and Hamas both repeated hardline positions that have scuttled previous rounds of truce mediation, while Israel has pressed on with assaults in central and southern Gaza, among the bloodiest of the war.

Biden's proposal envisages a ceasefire and phased release of hostages in exchange for Palestinians jailed in Israel, ultimately leading to a permanent end to the war.

On Tuesday, senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri, who is based outside Gaza, said it accepted the ceasefire resolution and was ready to negotiate over the specifics.

This required a formula stipulating the total withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and a swap of hostages held in Gaza for Palestinians jailed in Israel, he told Reuters.

"The U.S. administration is facing a real test to carry out its commitments in compelling the occupation to immediately end the war in an implementation of the U.N. Security Council resolution," Abu Zuhri said.

Blinken said the Hamas statement was "a hopeful sign" but definitive word was still needed from the Hamas leadership inside Israeli-besieged Gaza. "That's what counts, and that's what we don't have yet."

After Blinken left for Jordan, a senior Israeli government official, who asked not to be identified, said the published proposal would enable Israel to achieve its war goals.

The official repeated Israel's longstanding stance that Hamas' military and governing capabilities in Gaza must be annihilated, and all hostages freed with Gaza posing no threat to Israel in the future.

The war began when Hamas-led Palestinian militants stormed into southern Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 as hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel's retaliatory air and ground onslaught in Gaza has killed at least 37,164 Palestinians, the Gaza health ministry said in an update on Tuesday, and reduced most of the narrow, coastal enclave to wasteland, with malnutrition widespread.

The U.S. is Israel's closest ally and biggest arms supplier but, along with much of the world, has become sharply critical of the huge civilian death toll in Gaza and the destruction and humanitarian calamity wrought by the Israeli offensive.

In the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Palestinians reacted warily to the Security Council vote, fearing it could prove yet another ceasefire initiative that goes nowhere.

"We will believe it only when we see it," said Shaban Abdel-Raouf, 47, a displaced family of five sheltering in the central city of Deir Al-Balah, a frequent target of Israeli firepower.

"When they tell us to pack our belongings and prepare to go back to Gaza City, we will know it is true," he told Reuters via a chat app.

POST-WAR PLANNING 'IMPERATIVE', BLINKEN SAYS

Blinken said his talks were also addressing day-after plans for Gaza, including security, governance, and reconstruction of the enclave. "We've been doing that in consultation with many partners throughout the region. Those conversations will continue...it's imperative that we have these plans," he said.

As part of his eighth trouble-shooting trip to the Middle East since the Gaza conflict ignited, Blinken also sought steps to prevent months of border clashes between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah from escalating into a spillover war.

On Monday, Blinken had talks in Cairo with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, a key mediator in the war, in Cairo before proceeding to Israel, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

Blinken's consultations in Israel on Tuesday included centrist former military chief Benny Gantz - who resigned from Israel's war cabinet on Sunday over what he said was Netanyahu's failure to outline a plan for ending the conflict.

Blinken, speaking later in the day at a conference in Jordan on the humanitarian response for Gaza, announced $404 million in aid for Palestinians and called on other donors to also step up.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told the gathering on the Dead Sea that nations should force Israel to stop what he called the use of hunger as a weapon and remove obstacles to the distribution of humanitarian aid in Gaza.

Fighting continued with little respite on Tuesday as Israeli forces stepped up strikes on Gaza's southern city of Rafah, skirting the border with Egypt, a day after four soldiers were killed by a blast in a booby-trapped house claimed by Hamas.

Biden has repeatedly declared that ceasefires were close over the past several months, but there has been only one, week-long truce, in November, when over 100 hostages were freed in exchange for about 240 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Israeli forces rescued four hostages held by Hamas in a commando raid into a crowded urban refugee camp in central Gaza on Saturday during which 274 Palestinians were killed by heavy Israeli firepower, according to Gaza's health authorities.



(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Tel Aviv and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo; writing by Mark Heinrich; editing by Angus MacSwan, William Maclean)

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