US weighs Hamas response to cease-fire proposal

The Biden administration on Tuesday said it is evaluating a response from Hamas to a proposal for a temporary, cease-fire that would halt fighting with Israel in the Gaza Strip.

The response comes a day after the United Nations Security Council passed a U.S.-drafted resolution that laid out the three phases of a temporary cease-fire deal with a pathway toward a permanent end to hostilities.

“We are in receipt of this reply that Hamas delivered to Qatar and to Egypt. And we are evaluating it right now,” John Kirby, National Security Communications Advisor, said in a call with reporters.

The primary decision maker for Hamas is understood to be Yahya Sinwar, the group’s leader in hiding in the Gaza Strip, and who has transmitted his rejection for earlier cease-fire proposals after a week-long truce fell apart at the beginning of November.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Sinwar has demonstrated through messages to Hamas leadership outside of Gaza that ongoing fighting with Israel, resulting in more destruction of the Strip and deaths of Palestinian civilians, works toward the group’s aims.

“It should come as a shock to no one that Mr. Sinwar cares nothing at all about the lives of innocent Palestinians that have been caught up in this war,” Kirby said, responding to a question about the Journal’s reporting.

“Without confirming the specifics of the reporting, in general it was certainly not uncharacteristic of the brutality that this man is capable of, and the willingness that he has shown himself able or capable of, since the beginning of trying to advance his own agenda on the backs of, and in the lives of innocent Palestinians living in Gaza.”

Hamas said in a statement Tuesday that its response, transmitted through Egypt and Qatar, “puts the priority to the interest of our Palestinian people, the necessity to completely stop the ongoing aggression on Gaza, and the withdrawal [of the occupation forces] from the entire Gaza Strip,” referring to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

“The Palestinian delegation voiced willingness to deal positively in order to reach an agreement that ends this war against our people out of the sense of national responsibility,” the statement continued.

The cease-fire proposal was announced by President Biden on May 31. It was characterized as having originated with Israel, although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered vague assurances of Israel’s commitment to the proposal. Israeli officials have warned they are not offering unilateral agreement to the proposal without Hamas’s commitment to the deal.

But U.S. officials have said Israel has accepted the proposal and that Hamas’s agreement to the first phase of the deal would allow for a six-week cease-fire to take place immediately.

“Israel has already agreed to this deal, and the fighting could stop today if Hamas would do the same. I repeat, the fighting could stop today,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said following the vote in the Security Council.

The six-week cease-fire, part of the so-called phase one, would require Hamas to release hostages, including women, the elderly and those wounded, as well as return the remains of some hostages who have been killed. Israel says that Hamas has 120 hostages, some dead.

Israel would release Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in exchange for the hostages and would withdraw its military forces from populated areas in Gaza. Palestinian civilians would also be allowed to return to their homes and neighborhoods in “all areas of Gaza, including the north.” The cease-fire would also allow for a surge in humanitarian assistance.

During the six-week cease-fire, negotiators would work to transition to a second phase of the proposal, to establish a “permanent end of hostilities,” to include the full release of all hostages and a full Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza.

Hamas has earlier said that it could not agree to such a proposal without an Israeli commitment to a permanent end to the war and full withdrawal from the strip.

The statement from Hamas on the deal followed the designated-terrorist group on Monday welcoming the passage of the U.N. Security Council resolution.

Basem Naim, Hamas’s head of political and international relations, said the group was “waiting for Israel to negotiate the details,” when asked by The Hill what are the next steps after Hamas’s welcoming of the resolution.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, traveling in the Middle East to build support for the cease-fire proposal, called the response from Hamas to the U.N. resolution a “hopeful sign… but it’s not dispositive,” because it did not originate from the armed-group’s leadership in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar.

“What is dispositive, at least what’s so far been dispositive one way or another, is the word coming from Gaza and from the Hamas leadership in Gaza.”

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.