Path to cease-fire deal possible, U.S. says, as Israel targets Rafah anew

Path to cease-fire deal possible, U.S. says, as Israel targets Rafah anew

The White House said it viewed the cease-fire deal for the Gaza Strip as still possible Thursday, based on Hamas’s latest response to an American-backed plan, as Israel ramped up attacks around Rafah in southern Gaza.

“We are working actively to generate a path forward based on what Hamas has come in with,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the Group of Seven summit in Italy, referring to Hamas’s latest response with an amended proposal. “It gets us to a result that’s consistent with what the U.N. Security Council laid down and consistent with [what] President Biden laid out; we believe that is possible.”

At the same time, Sullivan urged Hamas to accept the U.S.-backed proposal that was “on the table.” Hamas “should take it and not try to push this thing in a direction where we just get to stalemate,” he said, calling on the international community to pressure Hamas to accept the deal on offer.

President Biden told reporters at the G-7 summit that the leaders discussed the cease-fire deal Thursday. When asked whether he was confident that they would reach a deal soon, he said “No,” adding, “I haven’t lost hope.” Biden said, “Hamas has to move.”


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Later in the day, Biden said the “biggest hang-up so far” in negotiations is Hamas “refusing to sign” onto the deal, despite the group having already submitted a “similar” proposal. “Whether or not it comes to fruition remains to be seen,” he said.

Hamas had provided Egyptian and Qatari officials with its response to the U.S.-backed deal, framing it as “positive.” In a statement Thursday, the militant group said it was negotiating in good faith and urged the Israeli government to publicly signal its support for the deal.

While Biden has characterized it as an “Israeli” proposal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu subsequently distanced himself from it under pressure from his right flank.

Hamas’s statement disputed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s suggestion that the group was responsible for the delay, countering that his bias toward Israel was “responsible for obstructing reaching an agreement.”

“The movement confirmed its readiness to cooperate with the mediators to enter into indirect negotiations on the implementation of these principles,” the statement read, repeating the group’s demands for Israeli forces to withdraw completely from the Strip, for an exchange of captives, humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, and permission for the displaced to return home.

Hamas’s statement came after Blinken accused the group of making unworkable demands during the negotiations by proposing “numerous changes” to the plan announced by Biden last month. The State Department did not offer an official response to Hamas’s criticism on Thursday.

“We’re not going to bother responding to a terrorist organization whose haggling has prevented a cease-fire from already being in effect,” said a State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about sensitive diplomatic discussions.

This week, the U.N. Security Council approved Biden’s plan for a cease-fire deal, marking a rare diplomatic victory on Gaza for the United States at the United Nations. The multistage plan would begin with a six-week cease-fire during which Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas; Hamas would release all hostages who are women, children, elderly or wounded; Palestinians would be allowed to return to their homes across Gaza; and aid would flood into the enclave.

Israeli forces struck the Mawasi area in the southern Gaza coastline overnight as tanks attempted to push deeper into Gaza toward the Egyptian border, local Palestinian residents said, describing confusion and chaos among the displaced who had nowhere to flee.

Asad Zourub, 31, said in an interview that Israeli forces fired at targets throughout Mawasi from “land, sea and air,” starting at around 9 p.m. Wednesday evening and lasting throughout the night. “Random shooting occurred, creating a sense of fear among citizens,” he said. On Thursday, Zourub said people had returned to their tents after fleeing overnight.

The Israel Defense Forces said that it deployed drones, airstrikes and engaged in “close-quarters” combat in the Rafah area of southern Gaza, conducting what it described as “intelligence-based, targeted operations.” According to a statement, Israeli troops located weapons, struck a rocket launch site and killed an unspecified number of militants in the area. Throughout the Strip, the Israeli military said its air force hit over 45 targets in total on Wednesday.

Part of the coastal Mawasi region has been designated a humanitarian area, but the IDF denied it had struck there.

The Israeli advance pushed into areas in western Rafah that are not under evacuation orders, sowing confusion among residents. Many fled a day earlier amid rumors that the International Committee of the Red Cross had warned people to leave.

In a statement, the ICRC said Israel had informed it on Wednesday of “continued” military operations in western Rafah but the aid group said it had not publicly circulated any information. “Any information on military operations needs to come from the party conducting them,” the ICRC said.

Sirens also sounded in northern Israel amid reports of heavy rocket fire from Lebanon and “approximately 40 projectiles were launched toward the Galilee and Golan Heights area,” igniting a number of fires in northern Israel, according to the IDF, which said it intercepted many of them. At least two people were lightly injured with shrapnel in the Golan Heights, Israel’s Magen David Adom rescue service reported.

Videos published by Israeli outlets also showed a large fire in the area of Safed, a northern Israeli city home to a large military base.

The volley came a day after Hezbollah, the militant group in Lebanon, sent about 215 projectiles toward northern Israel in retaliation for an Israeli airstrike in southern Lebanon that killed one of its senior commanders the previous day.

“Neither the world nor Hezbollah want Lebanon to burn, but that’s what’s going to happen if it [Hezbollah] doesn’t stop what’s going on there,” Benny Gantz, who resigned Sunday from Netanyahu’s war cabinet, told Channel 12.

Here’s what else to know

Nine heads of international nonprofit and U.N. organizations published a letter expressing concern about the Houthis’ recent detention of 17 members of civil society and nonprofit organizations. The leaders of affected organizations asked the Houthis to confirm the “exact whereabouts of those detained and the conditions in which they are being held” and sought immediate access to them. Among the signatories were heads of the World Health Organization, Oxfam International and World Food Program.

The Houthis in Yemen struck a Greek-owned cargo ship, causing severe flooding and damage to the engine room, U.S. Central Command said Wednesday. The Liberian-flagged bulk carrier, the MV Tutor, most recently docked in Russia. U.S. forces also destroyed three cruise missile launchers and a drone launched from an area of Yemen controlled by Houthi militants, who have been attacking vessels passing through the Red Sea for months.

More than 330,000 tons of waste have piled up alongside populated areas of the Gaza Strip, according to UNRWA. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said that the trash is posing “catastrophic” environmental and health risks, as children rummage through it daily.

A U.N. inquiry said Israel has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza. The report, which the U.N. human rights office said was the first in-depth U.N. investigation of events on and since Hamas’s attack Oct. 7, also found that Palestinian armed groups carried out war crimes in Israel.

At least ​​37,232 people have been killed and 85,037 injured in Gaza since the war started, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says the majority of the dead are women and children. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, including more than 300 soldiers, and it says 298 soldiers have been killed since the launch of its military operations in Gaza.

John Hudson, Frances Vinall and Tyler Pager contributed to this report.

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