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War in the Middle East: Despite US initiative, high hurdles for Gaza deal

War in the Middle East: Despite US initiative, high hurdles for Gaza deal

The mediators are pushing for an agreement. In Israel, the USA’s biggest advance to date is leading to a breakdown. And what is Hamas doing? The news at a glance.

Even after US President Joe Biden’s push to end the Gaza war, the hurdles for an agreement between Israel and the Islamist Hamas are very high. A Hamas spokesman based in Lebanon expressed himself positively and said that the Israeli offer presented by Biden would be examined.

However, according to information from the Wall Street Journal, Hamas’ military leader Jihia al-Sinwar, who is staying in tunnels under the Gaza Strip, is only willing to make an agreement if it ensures the survival of Hamas as a military and political force in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in turn, made it clear in a statement after Biden’s speech that Israel’s conditions for ending the war had not changed: the destruction of Hamas and the release of all hostages.

The states acting as mediators in the conflict, Egypt, the USA and Qatar, called on Israel and Hamas to agree on an agreement in a joint statement. The offer explained by Biden unites the demands of all parties. “This deal offers a roadmap for a permanent ceasefire and an end to the crisis,” it said.

Previously, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken by phone with his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri, the ministries of the three mediating countries announced. During his conversation with Shukri, Blinken called on Hamas to accept the proposed deal immediately.

Ministers threaten Netanyahu with end of coalition

Biden had surprisingly presented details of a draft plan, which, according to the US government, Israel has already agreed to. In Israel, however, several right-wing religious coalition partners of Prime Minister Netanyahu promptly threatened to collapse his government coalition if Israel agreed to the deal.

This would mean a “victory for terrorism” and a “total defeat” for Israel, raged the right-wing extremist police minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. The plan would end the war without achieving the war goals, wrote the right-wing extremist finance minister Bezalel Smotrich on X. Other ministers also spoke out against the proposal.

X-Post

In contrast, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in several cities across the country in support of the agreement and loudly demanded new elections. They accused the government of not doing enough to release the hostages. According to the organizers, 120,000 people took part in a mass rally in Tel Aviv alone, as the Times of Israel reported. According to eyewitnesses and media reports, there were clashes with the police and several arrests. It was the largest protest since October 7.

Netanyahu’s advisor: Many details still unclear

Although Israel has agreed to the agreement proposal presented by Biden, many details are still unclear, stressed Ophir Falk, foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Netanyahu, to the British newspaper “The Sunday Times”. “It is not a good deal, but we absolutely want the hostages to be released, all of them,” he said.

“There are still many details to be clarified,” Falk said, pointing out, in line with Netanyahu’s statement, that Israel’s conditions had not changed: the release of all hostages and the destruction of Hamas. “The idea that Israel will agree to a permanent ceasefire before these conditions are met is a non-starter,” Netanyahu said.

Is Hamas playing for time?

The leader of Hamas in Gaza, Sinwar, whose consent is required for any agreement, believes that time is on his side and that the war is dragging Israel deeper into a quagmire, the Wall Street Journal reported. Civilian casualties in Gaza are contributing to making Israel an international pariah, Sinwar told his contacts in notes from underground, the newspaper reported. While many of the exiled representatives of Hamas’ political wing want to show that Hamas is committed to ending the suffering of civilians, Sinwar wants to ensure that Hamas remains a major political force in Gaza.

The agreement proposal presented by Biden does not mention who would take control of the Gaza Strip after the war, the New York Times reported. If no other agreements are reached, this could lead to Hamas taking de facto control of the area again.

From the Islamists’ point of view, this would be a strategic victory after almost eight months of war, the newspaper wrote. Sinwar is striving for “greater gains” than many others in the political wing, the Wall Street Journal quoted an Arab source involved in the mediation talks as saying.

The plan for a deal presented by Biden has three phases: The first envisages a complete and unconditional ceasefire of six weeks and a withdrawal of Israeli forces from densely populated areas in Gaza. A specific group of hostages would first be released – including women, the elderly and the injured. In return, hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel would be released. In a second phase, the fighting would then cease permanently and the remaining hostages would be released. In a final phase, reconstruction of the Gaza Strip would begin.

Israel reserves the right to continue the war

Meanwhile, an Israeli official made it clear to the Times of Israel that in the offer outlined by Biden, Israel reserves the right to resume fighting at any time if Hamas violates the terms of the proposed agreement. For example, if the agreed number of hostages to be released is not released. “And if Israel determines that the talks are futile and only serve to buy time,” the official told the newspaper.

A breakthrough in the stalled talks is possible, but the differences of opinion on detailed issues will probably be difficult to overcome given the major differences between the war aims and political interests of Israel and Hamas, the Wall Street Journal quoted negotiators involved as saying.

The war was triggered by a massacre carried out by terrorists from Hamas and other extremist groups in Israel on October 7. They murdered more than 1,200 people and abducted more than 250 hostages to Gaza. Israel responded with massive air strikes and a ground offensive. According to the Hamas-controlled health authority, more than 36,300 people have been killed so far. The number, which does not distinguish between fighters and civilians, is difficult to verify independently.

Source: Stern

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