Some of Hamas’ proposed changes to ceasefire plan workable, some not – Blinken

12 June 2024, 20:24

Antony Blinken speaks before a crowd bearing US flags
Israel US Blinken. Picture: PA

The US secretary of state told reporters that mediators are working to close the deal.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken has said mediators will keep trying to close a ceasefire deal after Hamas proposed numerous changes to a US-backed proposal, some of which he said were “workable” and some not.

The back-and-forth keeps hopes alive for an accord that can bring an end to eight months of war that has decimated Gaza, killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and left scores of Israeli hostages still languishing in militant captivity.

But it also laid bare the frustration after previous moments of optimism have been repeatedly dashed by the differences between the two sides over the deal.

The ceasefire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel or Hamas.

Hezbollah fighters carry a yellow and green coffin bearing their commander
Hezbollah fighters have carried coffin of senior commander Taleb Sami Abdullah, known within Hezbollah as Hajj Abu Taleb (AP)

Speaking to reporters in Qatar, Mr Blinken did not spell out what changes Hamas was seeking but he said the mediators – Qatar, Egypt and the US – will keep trying to “close this deal”.

He put the onus on Hamas, accusing it of changing its demands.

“Hamas has proposed numerous changes to the proposal that was on the table… Some of the changes are workable. Some are not,” said Mr Blinken. “I believe that they (the differences) are bridgeable, but that doesn’t mean they will be bridged because ultimately Hamas has to decide.”

Mr Blinken’s comments came as Lebanon’s Hezbollah fired a massive barrage of rockets into northern Israel to avenge the killing of a top commander, further escalating regional tensions.

Hezbollah, an Iran-backed ally of Hamas, has traded fire with Israel nearly every day since the Israel-Hamas war began and says it will only stop if there is a truce in Gaza.

Air raid sirens sounded across northern Israel, and the military said that about 215 projectiles were fired from southern Lebanon, making it one of the largest attacks since the fighting began. There were no immediate reports of casualties as some were intercepted while others ignited brush fires.

Antony Blinken adjusts his earpiece
US secretary of state Antony Blinken said mediators are fighting to keep the deal alive (AP)

Hamas conveyed its official reply to the proposal to mediators on Tuesday. Hamas spokesman Jihad Taha told the Lebanese news outlet ElNashra that the “amendments” requested by the group aim to guarantee a permanent ceasefire and complete an Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza.

The proposal announced by US President Joe Biden includes those provisions, but Hamas has expressed wariness whether Israel will implement the terms.

Mr Blinken, on his eighth visit to the region since the start of the war, said the deal on the table was “virtually identical” to one Hamas put forward on May 6.

“At some point in a negotiation and this has gone back and forth for a long time, you get to a point where if one side continues to change its demands, including making demands and insisting on changes for things that it already accepted, you have to question whether they’re proceeding in good faith or not,” he said.

The proposal called for a three-phase plan that would begin with a six-week ceasefire and the release of some hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas and Palestinian civilians would be allowed to return to their homes.

Phase one also requires the safe distribution of humanitarian assistance “at scale throughout the Gaza Strip”, which Mr Biden said would lead to 600 trucks of aid entering Gaza every day.

Israeli tanks move down the road in a column
The war has been going on for eight months (AP)

At the same time, negotiations would be launched over the second phase, which is to bring “a permanent end to hostilities, in exchange for the release of all other hostages still in Gaza, and a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza”.

Phase three would launch “a major multi-year reconstruction plan for Gaza and the return of the remains of any deceased hostages still in Gaza to their families”.

While the US says Israel has accepted the proposal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given conflicting statements, saying Israel is still intent on its war goal of destroying Hamas.

Mr Netanyahu’s far-right coalition allies have rejected the latest proposal and have threatened to bring down his government if he ends the war leaving Hamas intact.

But Mr Netanyahu is also under mounting pressure to accept a deal to bring the hostages back. Thousands of Israelis, including families of the hostages, have demonstrated in favour of the US-backed plan.

The proposal has raised hopes of ending a conflict in which Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials, who do not give the breakdown of civilians and fighters.

The war has also driven some 80% of the population of 2.3 million from their homes, and Israeli restrictions and ongoing fighting have hindered efforts to bring humanitarian aid to the isolated coastal enclave, fuelling widespread hunger.

Senior Hezbollah leader Hashem Safieddine speaks before an image of the dead commander
Senior Hezbollah leader Hashem Safieddine addressed mourners in Lebanon (AP)

Israel launched its campaign after Hamas and other militants stormed into Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage.

More than 100 hostages were released during a ceasefire last year in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Hamas is believed to be holding around 80 hostages and the remains of another 40.

Mr Netanyahu’s office said he was conducting a security assessment in light of Hezbollah’s barrage in the north and what it called Hamas’s “negative response” to the proposal.

Hezbollah said it fired missiles and rockets at two military bases in retaliation for the killing of Taleb Sami Abdullah, 55.

Known within Hezbollah as Hajj Abu Taleb, he is the most senior commander killed since the fighting began eight months ago. The Israeli strike destroyed a house where Abdullah and three other officials were meeting, about six miles from the border, late Tuesday.

A Hezbollah official told the Associated Press that Abdullah was in charge of a large part of the Lebanon-Israel front, including the area facing the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, which Hezbollah has repeatedly attacked in recent days, causing fires in the area.

Israeli air strikes on Lebanon have killed more than 400 people, most of them Hezbollah members, but the dead also include more than 70 civilians and non-combatants. On the Israeli side, 15 soldiers and 10 civilians have been killed since the war in Gaza began.

Other groups allied with Iran, including powerful militias in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, have also attacked Israeli, US and other targets since the start of the war, often drawing western retaliation. In April, Israel and Iran traded fire directly for the first time.

Mr Biden’s administration has said the best way to calm regional tensions is for Hamas to accept the ceasefire proposal. The UN Security Council voted overwhelmingly in favour of the plan on Monday.

By Press Association

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