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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Hamas rejects cease-fire proposal, dashing Biden’s hopes of near term deal

By Aaron Boxerman, Hwaida Saad, Raja Abdulrahim and Michael Levenson

Hamas officials said earlier this week that there had been no breakthrough in the mediated talks with Israel aimed at pausing the war and freeing the remaining hostages in the Gaza Strip, one day after President Joe Biden said he was hopeful that a cease-fire would be in place by next week.

Basem Naim, a Hamas spokesperson, said in a text message that the militant group had yet to formally receive “any new proposals” since senior Israeli officials met with Qatari, Egyptian and U.S. mediators in Paris last week to advance a possible deal.

Another Hamas official, Ahmad Abdelhadi, said the group was sticking to its demand that Israel agree to a long-term cease-fire and that leaks about the talks were designed to pressure Hamas to soften its position.

“We are not interested in engaging with what’s been floated, because it does not fulfill our demands,” Abdelhadi said Tuesday in a televised interview with al-Mayadeen, a Lebanese broadcaster.

Qatar, a key mediator in the talks, also expressed caution Tuesday, saying it could not comment on Biden’s view that negotiators were nearing an agreement.

“The efforts are ongoing; all the parties are conducting regular meetings,” Majed al-Ansari, a spokesperson for the Qatari foreign ministry, told reporters in Doha. “But for now, while we certainly hope it will be achieved as soon as possible, we don’t have anything in our hands so as to comment on that deadline.”

As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins in less than two weeks, and as the death toll in Gaza approaches 30,000, global pressure has been mounting on Israel to agree to a deal to stop the war, at least temporarily. Biden, facing his own domestic pressures in an election year, has been pushing for an agreement as soon as possible, telling reporters in New York on Monday that, “My hope is by next Monday, we’ll have a cease-fire.”

Those pressures have led Israel to make significant concessions in the negotiations, two officials said, including an offer to release 15 Palestinians jailed on serious terrorism charges in exchange for five female Israeli soldiers being held in Gaza.

That offer was part of a broader proposal to exchange scores of Palestinian prisoners and detainees in exchange for about 35 other hostages during a roughly six-week cease-fire, the officials said.

Hamas’ political leaders have insisted, at least publicly, that any deal to release the more than 100 hostages still being held in Gaza is dependent on a permanent cease-fire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops. Israel has said it will not compromise on its goal of toppling Hamas in Gaza, suggesting it will not agree to a long-term truce.

At a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said negotiators “made significant progress” last week and were continuing to push for an agreement between Israel and Hamas.

“We are trying to push this deal over the finish line,” Miller said. “We do think it’s possible.”

But he added, “Ultimately, some of this comes down to Hamas and whether Hamas is willing to agree to a deal that would provide significant benefits to the Palestinian people that they claim to represent.”

With no accord in place, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said it had suspended emergency medical missions for two days in a part of Gaza where Israeli forces Sunday intercepted a convoy evacuating patients from a hospital, interrogating and detaining workers on the suspicion that they were ferrying Hamas fighters.

The Red Crescent and U.N. officials said they had cleared arrangements for the evacuation with Israeli authorities. Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the U.N. aid office in Geneva, said Tuesday that Israel had known the details of the route, the vehicles and the identities of those traveling in the convoy.

But after the convoy left Al-Amal Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis, carrying 24 patients who required surgery, it was stopped by Israeli forces.

The soldiers ordered patients and aid workers out of the vehicles, forced paramedics to strip and held the convoy for seven hours, U.N. officials said. One of those detained was released hours later, the Red Crescent said.

In a statement, the Israeli military said that it had stopped the convoy after intelligence “raised the possibility” that Hamas members were traveling in it. It said it had questioned the Red Crescent workers because of “information regarding their possible involvement in terrorist activity.” It did not say what that information was.

The incident led the Red Crescent to announce Monday that it would suspend missions in areas where it must first arrange its movements with Israeli troops. The group criticized “the lack of commitment and respect of the Israeli occupation forces to the procedures and coordination mechanisms agreed upon.”

The U.N. humanitarian team for the Palestinian territories said the interception of the Al-Amal convoy was “not an isolated incident.”

“Aid convoys have come under fire and are systematically denied access to people in need,” it said in a statement. “Humanitarian workers have been harassed, intimidated or detained by Israeli forces and humanitarian infrastructure has been hit.”

Israel has publicized intelligence it says shows Hamas has made use of civilian medical infrastructure, including hospitals, for military purposes and has accused some humanitarian workers, including about a dozen Palestinians employed by the U.N., of ties to Hamas and participating in the Oct. 7 attacks in southern Israel that precipitated the war.

Underscoring the obstacles to relief efforts on the ground in Gaza, planes from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France joined a Jordanian operation to airdrop aid along the coast of Gaza on Tuesday, the Jordanian military said in a statement. It was Egypt’s first time airdropping aid into Gaza.

Jordanian and French planes previously dropped aid, including ready-made meals, into Gaza on Monday, the Jordanian armed forces said.

Video footage on Monday showed a cluster of parachutes falling into the sea near Deir al Balah, a city in central Gaza. Men in small boats paddled out through choppy water to retrieve the aid. As they returned to shore, hundreds on the beach scrambled for the packages.

“It was sad seeing people I know well running and crowding to get aid that’s not nearly enough,” said Alaa Fayad, a veterinary student who shot footage of the scene that he posted online.

The aid drop came after the World Food Program last week suspended food deliveries to northern Gaza, saying that despite extreme needs there, it could not safely operate amid gunfire and the “collapse of civil order” in recent days.

The WFP and other U.N. aid agencies have repeatedly warned that their access to northern Gaza was being systematically impeded by Israeli authorities. Israel has denied blocking aid deliveries and blames the U.N. and Hamas for the delays.

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