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Gaza war: Israel tells ceasefire negotiators to resume work

Image caption, There has been no progress towards a ceasefire since Biden’s announcement five weeks ago

  • Author, Raffi Berg
  • Role, BBC News

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given approval for a team of negotiators to be sent to discuss a hostage release deal with Hamas, a government official has said.

The development comes a day after Hamas responded to a Gaza ceasefire plan outlined by President Biden at the end of May.

The last indirect talks took place in Cairo in early May and efforts to get them back on track since then have made little progress, with the US putting the blame on Hamas.

The details of Hamas’s response have not been made public, but a Palestinian official familiar with the negotiations told the BBC that Hamas was no longer demanding a full ceasefire at the outset of the plan presented by Mr Biden.

On Wednesday, Hamas’s political leadership said it had contacted mediators Egypt and Qatar “about the ideas” it said it had been discussing with the aim of reaching an agreement.

Up to now Hamas has demanded an end to the war and a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. Israel says it will accept only temporary pauses in the fighting until it eliminates Hamas.

When he announced the plan on 31 May, President Biden said it was based on a more detailed Israeli proposal, and that it involved three phases.

The first phase would include a “full and complete ceasefire”, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from populated areas of Gaza, and the exchange of some of the hostages for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

The second phase would involve the release of all the other living hostages and a “permanent end to hostilities”, and the third phase a major reconstruction plan for Gaza and the return of dead hostages’ remains.

An Israeli government official announced Mr Netanyahu’s decision on Thursday to send a delegation of negotiators, though they did not say where or when they would travel.

The official also said the prime minister “reiterated that the war will end only after all its objectives have been achieved and not a moment before”.

Mr Netanyahu has declared his objectives to be the return of all remaining hostages, the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities, and ensuring Gaza no longer constitutes a threat to Israel.

A senior Palestinian official told the BBC on Thursday that Hamas had given up the condition of a complete ceasefire in exchange for new conditions related to the withdrawal of Israeli forces from a strip of land running along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, known as the Philadelphi corridor, and from the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

The source, who was informed of the response Hamas submitted to the mediators, added that the atmosphere was positive. “We are going to a new round of negotiations soon,” the source said.

The US has accused Hamas of blocking progress towards a ceasefire.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the group was the “one exception” to international support for the ceasefire proposal. Hamas, he said, had created “gaps… in not saying yes to a proposal that everyone, including the Israelis, had said yes to”.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has said he is “committed to the Israeli proposal welcomed by President Biden”, although he has not publicly endorsed the outline as it was laid out.

The war was triggered by Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on 7 October in which Hamas-led gunmen killed about 1,200 people and took 251 others back to Gaza as hostages.

At least 38,010 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza as a result of Israel’s offensive, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

Hamas and allied armed groups are believed to still be holding 116 hostages who were taken on 7 October. At least 42 are presumed by Israeli authorities to be dead.

The others have been released, rescued or their bodies recovered.

Four other Israelis have been held hostage since 2014 and 2015, two of whom are presumed dead.

Additional reporting by Rushdi Aboualouf in Istanbul

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