Israel balks after Hamas says it agrees to cease-fire deal

Israel balks after Hamas says it agrees to cease-fire deal

Hamas says it has accepted an offer for a temporary cease-fire with Israel, as diplomatic negotiations intensify to free Israeli hostages held by Hamas and ward off an Israeli military operation on the southern Gazan city of Rafah.

Hamas’s head of political and international relations, Basem Naim, confirmed to The Hill that Hamas had communicated with Egyptian and Qatari mediators that it had accepted a cease-fire proposal.

The U.S., along with Egypt and Qatar, has engaged intensively for weeks on a truce proposal between Israel and Hamas.

Israel on Monday said it would send a delegation to engage in negotiations over efforts to secure a temporary cease-fire, but said “Hamas’s proposal is far from Israel’s necessary requirements,” according to a Hebrew-language statement from the prime minister’s office.

At the same time, the Israeli wartime Cabinet on Monday decided unanimously to continue military operations against Hamas targets in Rafah.

The Biden administration, which has sought to warn Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against launching an attack on Rafah, expressed caution over Hamas’s cease-fire response.

President Biden spoke Monday morning with Netanyahu, but White House national security communications adviser John Kirby said the call took place before Hamas issued its response.

“We want to get these hostages out, we want to get a cease-fire for six weeks, we want to increase humanitarian assistance and the last thing I want to do is say anything at this podium that’s going to put that process at risk,” Kirby said at a press briefing Monday afternoon.

The administration says a temporary cease-fire is the best way to secure the release of Israeli hostages, and protect more than 1 million Palestinians sheltering in Rafah.

The southern Gazan city sits on the border with Egypt and is a priority crossing point for humanitarian aid deliveries into the besieged territory. Israel has carried out an intensive seven-month war against Hamas in the strip following Hamas’s shocking Oct. 7 attack on Israel, in which it killed about 1,200 people and took more than 250 people hostage.

A weeklong temporary cease-fire in November secured the release of more than 100 hostages, an effort the administration has sought for months to try and replicate.

Cease-fire mediators have not publicly detailed the full contents of the truce proposal.

Naim did not answer questions from The Hill about the proposal’s details.

But the broad contours of the deal is a six-to-eight week pause in fighting, in which Hamas would release Israeli hostages it has held since it kidnapped them from Israel on Oct. 7. The release of the hostages would occur in phases, with the most vulnerable of the 133 believed to be in Gaza released first.

In exchange, Israel is expected to release an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, withdraw its troops from certain regions of the Gaza Strip, and allow for Palestinians in Gaza to travel from the south of the territory to the north.

The pause in fighting is also expected to allow for a surge of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, where more than 1 million Palestinians have been displaced by fighting, tens of thousands have been wounded amid the war, and starvation and disease are rampant.

Updated at 4:33 p.m. EDT

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