Gaza conflict: Hamas says it accepts UN resolution for ceasefire and is ready to negotiate

Qatari and Egyptian mediators yet to received formal replies on truce proposal from militant group or Israel

Hamas accepts a United Nations resolution backing a plan to end the war with Israel in Gaza and is ready to negotiate details, a senior official of the Palestinian militant group said on Tuesday in what the US secretary of state Antony Blinken called “a hopeful sign”.

But Qatari and Egyptian mediators had not received formal replies from Hamas or Israel to the UN-backed truce proposal, an official close to the talks said. told Both sides suggested on Tuesday the plan fit their contradictory goals, raising doubt whether any genuine headway towards a deal had been made.

Discussions also touching on postwar plans for Gaza would continue over the next couple of days, Mr Blinken said in Tel Aviv.

Mr Blinken met Israeli officials on Tuesday in a push to end the eight-month-old Israeli air and ground war against Hamas that has devastated Gaza, a day after US president Joe Biden’s proposal for a truce was approved by the UN Security Council.

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

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

On Tuesday, senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri, who is based outside Gaza, said it accepted the ceasefire resolution and was ready to negotiate over the specifics.

This required a formula stipulating the total withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and a swap of hostages held in Gaza for Palestinians jailed in Israel, he said.

“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,” Mr Abu Zuhri said.

Mr Blinken said the Hamas statement was “a hopeful sign” but definitive word was still needed from the Hamas leadership inside Israeli-besieged Gaza. “That’s what counts, and that’s what we don’t have yet.”

A senior Israeli government official, who asked not to be identified, said the published proposal would enable Israel to achieve its war goals.

The official repeated Israel’s long-standing stance that Hamas’s military and governing capabilities in Gaza must be annihilated, and all hostages freed with Gaza posing no threat to Israel in the future.

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

Israel’s retaliatory air and ground onslaught in Gaza has killed at least 37,164 Palestinians, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said in an update on Tuesday, and reduced most of the narrow, coastal enclave to wasteland, with malnutrition widespread.

The US is Israel’s closest ally and biggest arms supplier but, along with much of the world, has become sharply critical of the huge civilian death toll in Gaza, the vast destruction and humanitarian calamity wrought by the Israeli offensive.

In the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Palestinians reacted cautiously to the Security Council vote, fearing it could prove yet another ceasefire initiative that goes nowhere.

“We will believe it only when we see it,” said Shaban Abdel-Raouf (47) a displaced family of five sheltering in the central city of Deir Al-Balah, a frequent target of Israeli firepower.

Mr Blinken said his talks were also addressing day-after plans for Gaza, including security, governance, and reconstruction of the 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.

As part of his eighth troubleshooting trip to the Middle East since the Gaza conflict ignited, Mr Blinken also sought steps to prevent months of border clashes between Israel and Lebanon’s Hizbullah from escalating into a spillover war.

On Monday, Mr Blinken had talks with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, a key mediator in the war, in Cairo before proceeding to Israel, where he met with prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and defence minister Yoav Gallant.

Mr Blinken’s consultations in Israel on Tuesday included centrist former military chief Benny Gantz – who resigned from Israel’s war cabinet on Sunday over what he said was Netanyahu’s failure to outline a plan for ending the conflict.

Fighting continued with little respite on Tuesday as Israeli forces stepped up strikes on Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, skirting the border with Egypt, a day after four soldiers were killed by a blast in a booby-trapped house claimed by Hamas.

Mr 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 heavy Israeli firepower, according to Gaza’s health authorities. – Reuters

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