Blinken says Hamas signoff still needed on Gaza ceasefire resolution

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said endorsement of the UN security council ceasefire resolution by Hamas officials was a “hopeful sign”, but the group’s leadership in Gaza needed to sign off on the deal.

Blinken, who is in Israel as part of his eighth regional trip since the war began, said the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had “reaffirmed his commitment” to the ceasefire plan outlined by the US, although it has not been formally accepted by either party to the conflict.

“Everyone’s vote is in, except for one vote, and that’s Hamas,” Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv after meeting Israeli officials to discuss the proposal.

He said the statements from Hamas spokespeople welcoming the UN resolution were encouraging, but the position of the leadership on the ground in Gaza was critical, “and that’s what we don’t have”.

Blinken met opposition leaders on Tuesday morning, and spoke privately with hostages’ families, before travelling to Jordan for an emergency summit on humanitarian aid for Gaza, where over a million people are on the brink of famine and most of the population are displaced.

He had been in Egypt on Monday, and is expected to visit Qatar in this trip as well; both countries have served as key mediators with Hamas.

The deal, which got UN approval on Monday, was unveiled by the US president, Joe Biden, at the end of May. Biden presented it as an Israeli initiative although Netanyahu has been at best ambivalent about the plan, saying any proposal to fix a ceasefire before Hamas military and governance capacity were destroyed was a “non-starter”.

That position appears to contradict the terms of the agreement, which calls for an initial exchange of elderly, sick or female hostages for Palestinian detainees held by Israel, in the course of a first six-week halt to fighting.

The ceasefire would evolve into a permanent end to hostilities and the release of all hostages in a second phase that would be negotiated by the two parties and US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators. A final stage would see the launch of a major reconstruction effort.

Hamas’s position could also complicate progress. It has said it would only accept a permanent ceasefire deal, after one temporary break in fighting collapsed last winter, and reportedly asked for international guarantees of any ceasefire.

Senior officials from the group on Tuesday welcomed the resolution and said it was ready to negotiate details, news agencies reported. A spokesperson, Jihad Taha, said Israel was “stalling and procrastinating and creating obstacles” so it could continue fighting.

More than 270 Palestinians were killed in the Nuseirat refugee camp at the weekend during an operation by Israeli special forces to free four of the hostages held by Hamas. Photograph: Abed Khaled/Reuters

Monday’s vote was the first time a deeply divided security council has endorsed a comprehensive plan for Gaza. Palestinian support for the US resolution made it much harder diplomatically for Russia or China to veto it.

The rare show of relative unity puts pressure on both parties to the conflict to strike an agreement, though both have shown themselves to be far more influenced by local constituencies and the personal interests of leaders than by international public opinion.

Netanyahu’s government has shifted to the right since Biden unveiled the deal, with war cabinet member Benny Gantz resigning from the government over the failure to make a long-term plan for Gaza.

That has increased the weight of hardline extremists, who want to keep fighting and have said they would resign if Netanyahu accepts a deal. That would remove his majority in parliament and potentially force Israel to hold elections.

However, the prime minister is also under pressure over the fate of hostages still in Gaza, whose relatives are lobbying hard for Israel to accept the deal. They demonstrated outside Blinken’s hotel in Tel Aviv, and he also met hostages’ families.

Four hostages were rescued at the weekend by Israeli special forces, in a mission that also killed more than 270 Palestinians, many of them civilians, prompting international outrage at what the top EU diplomat, Josep Borrell, called a “massacre”.

The UN human rights office said it was “shocked” by the impact on civilians of the rescue operation, and warned that Israeli forces and Hamas may both have committed war crimes.

The operation brought the total freed in military operations to just seven, a tiny proportion of the 250 people captured in the Hamas cross-border attacks on 7 October, when militants also killed about 1,200 Israelis.

Relatives say military operations can’t free all their loved ones. Most of those who are now home were handed over under a temporary ceasefire deal last November. There are still 120 held in Gaza, at least a third of whom are presumed to have died.

In Gaza there was scepticism that the deal would bring a halt to Israeli attacks that have killed over 37,000 people, according to health authorities in the strip, and brought at least half the population to the brink of famine.

Four Israeli soldiers were killed in an ambush in Rafah on Tuesday, the military announced.
A funeral was held at Mount Herzel military cemetery in Jerusalem.
Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

“We will believe it only when we see it,” said Shaban Abdel-Raouf, 47, displaced with his family of five to the central town of Deir al-Balah. “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.

Biden had previously said he hoped to reach a ceasefire deal for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which fell in spring. Instead, Israel readied its forces for a ground invasion of the southern city of Rafah.

Four Israeli soldiers were killed there in an ambush on Tuesday, Israeli media reported. Forty Palestinians were killed in Gaza over the last 24 hours, and 120 injured, Gaza health authorities said.

Fears of escalating conflict between Hezbollah and Israeli forces across the northern border were also on Blinken’s agenda in Israel. Late on Monday Israeli forces killed three fighters when they hit a convoy of tankers, and on Tuesday Hezbollah fired a barrage of about 50 projectiles fired towards the Golan Heights.

Blinken told Gantz that the ceasefire deal for Gaza would also improve Israel’s security by taming tensions on that border, the US state department said.

The Guardian

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