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Gaza ceasefire hopes dashed before Ramadan

A ceasefire agreement in Gaza that would allow the release of Israeli hostages and the first break in fighting in more than three months is unlikely to be reached before the start of Ramadan, which the Biden administration was targeting, according to sources familiar with the talks. . ,

Negotiators had hoped to reach a draft agreement this week after several days of meetings in Cairo, “but that’s not going to happen,” said a diplomat familiar with the discussions, who described the final days of talks as “very hectic.”

Two US officials agreed that the prospects for Israel and Hamas agreeing to a temporary ceasefire at the start of the Muslim holy month early next week are not promising.

“Hope is fading,” said one US official.

The failure to reach an agreement in the coming days would come after weeks of President Joe Biden and administration officials saying an agreement needed to be reached before Ramadan to avoid escalating the five-month war. He warned on Tuesday that without a ceasefire the region could become “very, very dangerous” by then.

Israel has also warned that if Israeli hostages held in Gaza do not come home before Ramadan, it will launch a military offensive in Rafah, southern Gaza, where about 1.5 million Palestinians are trying to seek safety from the fighting.

Representatives of Hamas, Egypt, Qatar and the United States met in the Egyptian capital this week for further talks, while Israel declined to send a delegation because Hamas had not yet provided a list of living and dead hostages. Which is a recent demand. From Israel. ,

The Biden administration is emphasizing that Israel has already agreed to the general terms of the six-week pause, while Hamas is holding on to it.

A Hamas delegation left Cairo this Thursday after several days of talks with no apparent progress in talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages. Egyptian state media Al Qahera, citing a high-level source, said the delegation left to consult on the proposals and that talks would resume next week.

“It’s in the hands of Hamas right now,” Biden told reporters as he boarded Air Force One on Tuesday. He had raised hopes last week by saying a ceasefire could be established as soon as last Monday, a prediction he later backed down. I had admitted, that was impossible.

Last week’s deadly incident in which an aid convoy was harassed in Gaza City and Israeli forces opened fire, killing 100 Palestinians, “brought us 10 steps back”, the diplomat said. Hamas then responded to the mediators with a negotiated outline that “makes no one happy.”

If a deal is successful, it is expected to involve several steps. In the first phase, when the fighting will stop for at least six weeks, about 40 Israeli hostages, including the elderly, women, the sick and the wounded, are expected to be freed. In parallel, Israel will also release Palestinian prisoners, whose number could number in the hundreds.

Sources told CNN that Hamas had backed off from some of its tough demands, but after last week’s “Ata Massacre,” as it became known, the group pushed for more guarantees. That is, in the first phase Israeli forces will withdraw from Gaza’s cities and in the second phase it will completely withdraw from the enclave, according to the diplomat, who said that the IDF refuses to accept these points.

Hamas has argued in the talks that Palestinians in northern Gaza not only need to be able to return to their remaining homes, but they also need to do so without passing through IDF checkpoints. Hamas is demanding that specialized machinery be provided to clear the debris, as well as field hospitals and clinics, the diplomat said.

Hamas “will continue negotiations”, the group said in a statement on Wednesday, arguing that it had “shown flexibility” but that Israel was “avoiding the obligations of the agreement” under discussion.

Hamas chief Osama said, “We have confirmed our conditions for a ceasefire: complete (IDF) withdrawal from the sector, return of displaced people to the areas they left, especially in the north, and adequate aid, relief and reconstruction.” provision of.” Hamdan said at a news conference in Beirut on Tuesday.

“Ramadan, the month of fasting and piety for Muslims, is a time when you are quiet and can do essential humanitarian work,” a senior administration official told reporters at a briefing over the weekend.

According to the United Nations, about a quarter of Gaza’s population is on the brink of famine. The Biden administration has stepped up criticism of Israel’s refusal to open more border crossings to allow aid into Gaza, particularly to meet needs in the north.

“There is no excuse,” Biden posted on Twitter.

Even without a ceasefire, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday, “There is an urgent need to dramatically increase the humanitarian assistance we receive.”

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