US says Israel ‘more or less’ accepts framework deal for Gaza ceasefire

US official says an agreement is in place for a six-week truce in Gaza and it is now up to Hamas to agree to it.

The United States says Israel has endorsed a framework for a proposed Gaza ceasefire and a captive release deal, and it was now up to the Palestinian group Hamas to agree to it.

The comments on Saturday came hours before mediators were expected to reconvene in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, to find a formula acceptable to Israel and Hamas for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza.

“There’s a framework deal. The Israelis have more or less accepted it,” a senior US official in the administration of President Joe Biden told reporters on a conference call.

“Right now, the ball is in the camp of Hamas,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The framework proposal includes a six-week ceasefire, as well as the release by Hamas of captives considered vulnerable, which includes the sick, the wounded, the elderly and women, the US official said.

A deal would also likely allow aid to reach hundreds of thousands of desperate Palestinians in northern Gaza, which humanitarian officials say are under threat of famine.

Israel has severely restricted the entry of food, water, medicine and other supplies into the Gaza Strip since its war began on October 7.

Palestinians run along a street as humanitarian aid is airdropped in Gaza City [AFP]
International mediators have been working for weeks to broker a deal to pause the fighting before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins around March 10.

Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, said the US announcement “looks like a bid to increase the pressure on Hamas to agree to the broad terms of this six-week ceasefire deal”.

But it was not clear if Hamas will accept, he said.

“Hamas has previously insisted on a full permanent ceasefire and the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. These are demands that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called delusional,” Smith said.

“So both sides on the face of it seem far apart,” he added.

Earlier this week, senior Hamas official Basem Naim told Al Jazeera that “the gap is still wide” in reaching an agreement with Israel, as the Palestinian group is calling for a total ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. His comments followed remarks from Biden on Monday that a truce was a week away – comments the US president later walked back on.

A senior Egyptian official said mediators Egypt and Qatar are expected to receive a response from Hamas during the Cairo talks reportedly scheduled to start on Sunday.

The Egyptian official also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the sensitive talks publicly.

Hamas has not backed away from its position that a truce must be the start of a process towards ending the war altogether, Egyptian sources and a Hamas official told the Reuters news agency.

However, the Egyptian source also said assurances had been offered to Hamas that the terms of a ceasefire would be worked out in the second and third phases of the deal.

Al Jazeera’s Smith, citing Israeli media reports, said it was not clear if an Israeli delegation would attend the truce talks in Cairo.

“According to Israeli media reports, Netanyahu has also said he will not send anyone to Cairo until Hamas gives up a list of all the captives who are alive. And we’ve heard from Hamas that they are not prepared to do this,” he said.

During a Qatari-mediated weeklong truce in November, 105 captives were released in exchange for 150 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons.

Overall, at least 30,320 Palestinians have been killed and 71,533 wounded in Israeli attacks since October 7.  The revised death toll in Israel from the October 7 Hamas attacks stands at 1,139.

Israel’s devastating offensive and blockade of Gaza has laid much of the coastal enclave to waste and left some 2.3 million people on the brink of famine.

Israeli forces on Thursday opened fire on hungry Palestinians trying to reach an aid convoy, killing at least 118 people. The attack spurred global outrage and led to the US airdropping food aid into Gaza. Jordanian forces also took part in the operation.



Al Jazeera and news agencies

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