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Hamas signal of support for UN-backed Gaza truce deal ‘hopeful sign’: Blinken

Hamas signal of support for UN-backed Gaza truce deal ‘hopeful sign’: Blinken
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Israel-Gaza war: Blinken says Hamas support for UN-backed ceasefire deal ‘hopeful sign’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday a Hamas statement of support for a UN resolution backing a proposal for a ceasefire in the Gaza war was a “hopeful sign” though word from the militant group’s leadership in the enclave was vital.

Conversations on plans for Gaza after the Israel-Gaza war ends will continue on Tuesday afternoon and in the next couple of days, Blinken said in Jerusalem after talks with Israeli leaders. “It’s imperative that we have these plans.”

Blinken met Israeli officials on Tuesday in a concerted push to end the eight-month-old war, a day after President Joe Biden’s proposal for a ceasefire was approved by the UN Security Council.

Ahead of Blinken’s trip, Israel and Hamas both repeated hardline positions that have undermined previous mediation to end the fighting, while Israel has pressed on with assaults in central and southern Gaza, among the bloodiest of the war.

On Tuesday, however, senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri, who is based outside Gaza, said it accepted the ceasefire resolution and was ready to negotiate over the details, adding that it was up to Washington to ensure that Israel abides by it.

He said Hamas accepted the formula stipulating the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and a swap of hostages held in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel.

“The US 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 UN 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 in Gaza. “That’s what counts, and that’s what we don’t have yet.”

A Palestinian man pushes another on a wheelchair past a garbage dump at al-Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. Photo: AFP

Israel has said it will agree only to temporary pauses in the war until Hamas is defeated, while Hamas has countered it will not accept a deal that does not guarantee the war will end.

Blinken, speaking to reporters, also said his talks were also addressing day-after plans for Gaza, including security, governance, and rebuilding the shattered 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.

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

The US is Israel’s closest ally and biggest arms supplier, though it has become increasingly critical of the high civilian death toll, vast destruction and humanitarian crisis caused by Israel’s Gaza war and pressed harder for an end to it.

The war raged on in Gaza on Tuesday as Israeli forces stepped up strikes on its southern city of Rafah a day after four soldiers were killed in an ambush claimed by Hamas.

Israeli Army Radio said the soldiers died in an explosion in a building in Rafah’s Shaboura neighbourhood. Hamas said it had ambushed troops by detonating explosives previously planted in the building.

Protracted quest to clinch ceasefire

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

Israel’s retaliatory air and ground blitz on the densely populated Gaza Strip has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, the Gaza health ministry has said, and reduced most of the tiny besieged enclave to wasteland, with malnutrition widespread.

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 Israeli bombardments, according to Gaza’s health authorities.

There are over 100 hostages left in the coastal enclave, according to Israeli tallies, including at least 40 whom Israeli authorities have declared dead in absentia.

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