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Biden’s Gaza peace push suffers another setback

The political leader of Hamas has insisted that any ceasefire deal would have to include a full withdrawal of Israeli troops

Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh has essentially rejected the Gaza ceasefire proposal unveiled last week by US President Joe Biden, demanding a full withdrawal of all Israeli troops from the Palestinian enclave as a condition of any plan to halt the fighting.

Haniyeh said on Wednesday that Hamas would insist on a permanent end to the deadly confrontation, contrary to the phased approach proposed in the plan that Biden announced last week. “The movement and factions of the resistance will deal seriously and positively with any agreement that is based on a comprehensive ending of the aggression and the complete withdrawal and prisoner swap,” he explained.

A senior Hamas official has confirmed to Reuters that Haniyeh’s comments could be taken as the group’s response to the Biden-backed ceasefire proposal. The plan already appeared to be in jeopardy. Even though it was billed as having been proposed by West Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that his government wouldn’t compromise on its war objectives, including the destruction of Hamas. Two members of Netanyahu’s cabinet threatened to resign, which would cause the ruling coalition to collapse, if the ceasefire was approved.

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The three-part proposal calls for starting with a six-week ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from densely populated areas of the Gaza Strip. It also includes increased deliveries of humanitarian aid to the besieged enclave, as well as an exchange of some Hamas hostages for Palestinians jailed in Israel. It would eventually advance to a permanent end to the fighting and a reconstruction initiative for Gaza.

“This is truly a decisive moment,” Biden said when he pitched the plan last Friday. “Hamas says it wants a ceasefire. This deal is an opportunity to prove whether they really mean it.”

Biden has repeatedly claimed that Israel and Hamas were on the verge of agreeing to a temporary ceasefire. For instance, he suggested in February that Netanyahu’s government had agreed to pause combat operations by the start of Ramadan, March 10. US officials told Reuters that Biden purposefully announced the latest proposal without notifying Israeli leaders in the hopes of preventing Netanyahu from backing away.

READ MORE: Israel won’t give up on ‘absolute victory’ – Netanyahu

The war began in October, when Hamas fighters launched surprise attacks on villages in southern Israel, killing more than 1,100 people and taking hundreds of hostages back to Gaza. Over 36,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israeli forces began bombarding the territory, according to the enclave’s health authorities. At least 30 were reportedly killed in an Israeli airstrike that hit a school on Thursday.

Leaders of the US and 16 other nations issued a joint statement on Thursday urging Hamas to accept the latest ceasefire proposal. “It is time for the war to end, and this deal is the necessary starting point,” the statement said.

READ MORE: Israel bombs ‘Hamas compound’ in Gaza school




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