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US President Joe Biden speaking at the White House this evening. Alamy Stock Photo
Gaza

'It's time for this war to end': Biden announces Israeli proposal for three-phase Gaza ceasefire deal

The US President said in a news conference that the new deal is a “roadmap” to an enduring ceasefire.

LAST UPDATE | 31 May

US PRESIDENT JOE Biden has announced that Israel has offered a three-phased truce deal to Hamas.

Speaking from the White House this evening, Biden said the deal offered by Israel is a “roadmap to an enduring ceasefire” in the military campaign in Gaza, including a troop withdrawal and the release of all hostages.

He said the proposal has been transmitted to Hamas via Qatar.

Hamas has since released a statement saying it “considers positively” the contents of Biden’s speech regarding “a permanent ceasefire”.

The statement added that Hamas is in a “position of readiness to deal positively and constructively with any proposal based on a permanent ceasefire and complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.”

On 6 May, Hamas said it agreed to a ceasefire proposal by Egypt and Qatar that appeared to be almost identical to the one announced by Biden this evening, but Israeli leaders rejected that deal.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the Israeli deal as a “significant opportunity” to bring the war to an end.

“This three-step approach is balanced and realistic. It now needs support from all parties,” the European Commission president said on social media.

Phase one of the proposed deal, which would last for six weeks, would include “a full and complete ceasefire, withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza, release of a number of hostages, including women, the elderly, the wounded, in exchange for (the) release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners,” Biden said.

Palestinian civilians would return to to their homes in all areas of Gaza, while “humanitarian assistance would surge” with around 600 trucks of aid being carried into Gaza every day and “hundreds of thousands” of temporary shelters would be delivered.

“All that and more would begin immediately”, he added.

Three phase approach

Phase one would also see Israel and Hamas “negotiate the necessary arrangements to get to phase two – a permanent end to hostility”.

If the negotiations take longer than six weeks, the ceasefire would still continue “for as long as negotiations continue”. 

Phase two would see Hamas releasing all remaining hostages and Israel withdrawing all of its forces from Gaza.

Biden said the final phase of the deal would see “major reconstruction plan” for Gaza commence, with the remains of hostages being returned to their families. 

He urged Hamas to accept the deal, saying that militants are “no longer capable” of another 7 October-style attack.

“Everyone who wants peace now must raise their voices and let the leaders know they should take this deal, work to make it real, make it lasting and forge a better future out of the tragic terror attack and war,” he continued. 

It’s time for this war to end, and for the day after to begin.

The announcement of the proposal comes after repeated attempts to end the war have stalled.

‘Sheer hell’

Following Biden’s speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Gaza war would not end until the “elimination” of Hamas’s capacity to govern.

“The prime minister authorised the negotiating team to present an outline for achieving (the return of hostages), while insisting that the war will not end until all of its goals are achieved, including the return of all our hostages and the elimination of Hamas’ military and governmental capabilities,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

“The exact outline proposed by Israel, including the conditional transition from stage to stage, allows Israel to maintain these principles,” it added.

Hamas insists that any ceasefire should be permanent.

The group said earlier today it had informed mediators it would only agree a “comprehensive” truce agreement including a hostage-prisoner swap if Israel halts its “aggression.”

Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’s Qatar-based political office, reiterated that the group’s core demands – including a permanent ceasefire and full Israeli withdrawal – “are non-negotiable.”

But Israel says it will only agree to a temporary truce of around six weeks and that it maintains its aim of destroying the Hamas.

Biden did not significantly address Israel’s assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah. The Israeli army said today its troops had pushed into the central area of the city, despite international objections.

He acknowledged however that Palestinians were enduring “sheer hell.”

The US president has been under growing pressure over his support for Israel since a deadly strike on Rafah set ablaze a crowded camp on Sunday. Gaza officials said 45 people were killed and about 250 wounded.

The White House however said this week that while the Israeli strike was “devastating,” it did not breach Biden’s red lines for withholding weapons deliveries to the key US ally.

Israeli strikes

Earlier today, Israeli forces struck targets across the Gaza Strip, with witnesses reporting air raids around the southern city of Rafah, the latest focus of the nearly eight-month war.

Witnesses said today that Israeli strikes hit the Rafah area as well as central Gaza’s Nuseirat, and an AFP correspondent reported intense bombardment in the north.

Strikes on two separate locations killed a total of 11 people overnight, medical sources at a hospital in Deir al-Balah and the Nuseirat refugee camp reported.

The Israeli military said its troops “continue… operational activities” in the Rafah area, and found rocket launchers, weapons and “tunnel shafts” in the city centre.

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An air strike “targeted and eliminated” a militant in that area, it added.

In central Gaza, further air strikes “eliminated several terrorists who operated near” troops, the military said without elaborating.

Israel, which has repeatedly vowed to destroy Hamas after the group attacked southern Israel on 7 October, said on Wednesday its forces had taken over the 14-kilometre Philadelphi corridor along the Gaza-Egypt border, where it alleges weapons were being smuggled.

Egypt, a longtime mediator in the conflict, has yet to officially comment on the Israeli takeover, which officials have previously said could violate the two countries’ 1979 peace deal.

Amid stalled diplomatic efforts towards a ceasefire, Hamas said it had informed mediators it would only agree a “comprehensive” truce agreement including a hostage-prisoner swap if Israel halts its “aggression”.

On Thursday, Israel said its forces had killed about 300 Palestinian militants in Rafah since launching its military operation in the city.

A stream of civilians fled Rafah, taking their belongings on their shoulders, in cars or on donkey-drawn carts.

Aid at sea 

Before the Rafah offensive began, the United Nations said up to 1.4 million people were sheltering in the city. Since then, one million have fled the area, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has said.

The United Nations has warned of looming famine in Gaza.

The Israeli seizure of the Rafah crossing has further slowed sporadic deliveries of aid for Gaza’s 2.4 million people and effectively shuttered the territory’s main exit point.

may-31-2024-g-int-daily-life-in-gaza-may-31-2024-gaza-palestine-daily-life-of-palestinians-after-the-deadly-targets-of-the-displaced-people-tents-in-rafah-gaza-credit-hashem-zimmothe Children in Gaza. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

However, Israel said at the weekend that aid deliveries had been stepped up, including through its Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza.

Cyprus, the European Union’s easternmost member, said humanitarian aid shipped to Gaza was being kept at sea off the territory’s coast, after a US-built pier was damaged in bad weather.

In an interview on French channel LCI, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed as “anti-Semitic slander” accusations Israel was deliberately targeting and starving Gazan civilians.

Netanyahu, who has often spoke to foreign media during the war but largely avoided interviews with Israeli outlets, said the ratio of militants to civilians killed so far in the Israeli offensive was “the lowest rate we have seen in an urban war”.

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied late Thursday outside the offices of private broadcaster TF1, LCI’s parent company, in Paris’s western suburbs, to protest the broadcast.

Wearing black and white keffiyeh scarves and waving Palestinian flags, the protesters chanted: “Gaza, Paris is with you.”

Car, house hit

The current conflict has been ongoing since Hamas’s 7 October attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

So far, Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,224 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Palestinian health ministry which does not break down the death toll into combatants and civilians.

Many more people are also presumed dead and buried under the rubble of destroyed buildings in Gaza.

A medical official at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah said eight people, including two children, were killed in an air strike that hit a house in Al-Bureij refugee camp.

Another source at Nuseirat’s Al-Awda Hospital reported three deaths in a strike on a car.

An AFP correspondent saw Israeli military vehicles southwest of Gaza City, in the territory’s north.

Sunday’s Israeli strike and resulting fire at the Rafah displacement camp killed 45 people, according to Gaza officials, and prompted two days of discussions at the UN Security Council.

Israel has said it targeted a Hamas compound and killed two senior members.

After the strike, Algeria presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council demanding an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages, but it was unclear when it would be voted on.

Amid the fighting, Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz’s centrist party submitted a bill to dissolve parliament for an early election, drawing criticism from Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party.

© AFP 2024 with reporting from Jane Moore