'Time for this war to end': Biden pushes Israeli plan for Gaza truce

US President Joe Biden speaks about the situation in the Middle East, in the State Dining Room of the White House on May 31, 2024 (Brendan SMIALOWSKI)
US President Joe Biden speaks about the situation in the Middle East, in the State Dining Room of the White House on May 31, 2024 (Brendan SMIALOWSKI)

US President Joe Biden said Friday Israel had offered a new roadmap towards a permanent peace in Gaza, urging Hamas to accept the surprise deal as it was "time for this war to end."

In his first major address outlining a solution to the conflict, Biden said the three-phase proposal starts with a six-week complete ceasefire that would see Israeli forces withdraw from all populated areas of Gaza.

"It's time for this war to end, for the day after to begin," Biden said in a televised address from the White House.

"Israel has offered a comprehensive new proposal. It's a roadmap to an enduring ceasefire and the release of all hostages," he said.

The 81-year-old Democrat is under pressure at home to bring an end to the Gaza war ahead of a tight US presidential election in November against Donald Trump, with nationwide campus protests and anger in his own party.

Biden said the onus for peace was on the Palestinian militant group Hamas, whose attack on key US ally Israel on October 7 last year trigged the grinding conflict in Gaza.

"Hamas needs to take the deal," said Biden, who has supported Israel with billions of dollars in military aid since the conflict began.

But Biden said he had also urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders not to "lose this moment," saying Israel's offensive had significantly degraded Hamas.

"Hamas is no longer is capable of carrying out another October 7," said Biden, in comments which will be seen as indicating he believes Israel has achieved its war goals and should ease off.

Biden said the first six-week phase would include a "full and complete ceasefire, withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza, release of a number of hostages, including women, the elderly, the wounded, in exchange for release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners."

Israel and Hamas would then negotiate during those six weeks for a lasting ceasefire -- but the truce would continue if the talks remained underway, Biden said.

"As long as Hamas lives up to its commitments, a temporary ceasefire would become, in the words of the Israeli proposal, the cessation of hostilities permanently," added Biden.

A third phase would involve years of internationally backed reconstruction.

- 'Sheer hell' -

Biden's announcement comes after repeated attempts to end the war have stalled -- and signs that the deal may already be dead on arrival.

Netanyahu said after Biden's speech that the Gaza war would not end until the "elimination" of Hamas's capacity to govern and make war.

Hamas, which received the proposal on Wednesday through mediator Qatar, insists that any ceasefire should be permanent.

The group said earlier Friday it had informed mediators it would only agree to a "comprehensive" truce agreement including a hostage-prisoner swap if Israel halts its "aggression."

Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas's Qatar-based political office, reiterated that the group's core demands -- including a permanent ceasefire and full Israeli withdrawal -- "are non-negotiable."

A senior US official said however that the new Israeli proposal was "almost identical" to what Hamas itself had offered a few weeks ago -- admitting that there were still "small gaps."

Biden did not significantly address Israel's assault on the southern Gaza  city of Rafah. The Israeli army said Friday its troops had pushed into the city center despite international objections.

Biden acknowledged however that Palestinians were enduring "sheer hell."

The US president has been under  international pressure over his support for Israel since a deadly strike on Rafah set ablaze a crowded camp on Sunday. Gaza officials said 45 people were killed and about 250 wounded.

The White House however said this week that while the Israeli strike was "devastating," it did not breach Biden's red lines for withholding weapons deliveries to the key US ally.