Hamas and PIJ submit response to UN-backed Gaza ceasefire plan

Qatari and Egyptian mediators say they will ‘examine the response’ after Hamas says it will ‘deal positively’ with the plan.

Palestinians in Gaza are facing widespread hunger and looming famine because Israeli forces have largely cut off the flow of food, medicine and other supplies [Abed Khaled/Reuters]

Hamas has responded to a US-backed proposal for a Gaza ceasefire and an exchange of captives for prisoners with some “remarks” on the plan, Qatari and Egyptian mediators have said.

Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad (PIJ) group said in a joint statement on Tuesday that they were ready to “deal positively to arrive at an agreement” and that their priority is to bring a “complete stop” to Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen television channel that the group had “submitted some remarks on the proposal to the mediators”. He did not give any details.

“The Hamas response reaffirmed the group’s stance [that] any agreement must end the Zionist aggression on our people, get the Israeli forces out, reconstruct Gaza and achieve a serious prisoners swap deal,” a Hamas official told Reuters news agency.

The foreign ministries of Qatar and Egypt said in a joint statement that they were examining the response and that they would continue their mediation efforts along with the United States “until an agreement is reached”.

White House National Security Spokesperson John Kirby said the US had also received and was evaluating the response.

“We are working our way through the Hamas response,” Kirby told reporters.

Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan reported that Hamas and PIJ leaders said the response that was delivered includes amendments.

“The amendments include a complete withdrawal from the entire Gaza Strip, including the Rafah crossing and the Philadelphi Corridor,” Khan said, referring to the vital border crossing with Egypt.

“The Israelis want one thing … the destruction of Hamas both politically and militarily,” he said. “What this proposal suggests is that Hamas may well survive in some way, shape, or form.”

The response comes as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the Middle East seeking to secure agreement for the ceasefire plan and plans for post-war reconstruction and governance in Gaza.

Blinken met Israeli officials on Tuesday in a push to end the eight-month-old Israeli air and ground offensive that has devastated Gaza, a day after the US-backed proposal for a truce was approved by the United Nations Security Council.

‘We will believe it only when we see it’

As part of his eighth trip to the Middle East since the Gaza assault began, Blinken also sought steps to prevent months of border clashes between Israel and the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah from escalating into a full-scale war.

On Monday, Blinken had talks in Cairo with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, a key mediator in the war, in Cairo before proceeding to Israel, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

Blinken’s consultations in Israel on Tuesday included one with centrist former military chief Benny Gantz, who resigned from Israel’s war cabinet on Sunday over what he said was Netanyahu’s failure to outline a plan for ending the conflict.

Blinken, speaking later in the day at a conference in Jordan on the humanitarian response for Gaza, announced $404m in aid for Palestinians and called on other donors to also “step up”.

Egypt’s el-Sisi told the gathering on the Dead Sea that nations should force Israel to stop what he called the use of hunger as a weapon and remove obstacles to aid distribution in Gaza.

Biden has repeatedly declared that ceasefires were close over the past several months, but there has been only one, week-long truce, in November, when more than 100 captives were freed in exchange for about 240 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Biden’s proposal envisages a ceasefire and phased release of captives in exchange for Palestinians detained in Israel, ultimately leading to a permanent end to the deadly assault.

The US is Israel’s closest ally and biggest arms supplier but, along with much of the world, has become sharply critical of the huge death toll in Gaza and the destruction and humanitarian calamity wrought by the Israeli offensive.

In the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Palestinians reacted warily to the Security Council vote, fearing it could prove yet another ceasefire initiative that goes nowhere.

“We will believe it only when we see it,” said Shaban Abdel-Raouf, 47, from a displaced family of five sheltering in the central city of Deir el-Balah, a frequent target of Israeli firepower.

“When they tell us to pack our belongings and prepare to go back to Gaza City, we will know it is true,” he told Reuters via a chat app.

Also Tuesday, the UN human rights office said both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups may have committed war crimes in connection with a deadly raid by Israeli forces that freed four hostages and killed at least 274 Palestinians over the weekend in central Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp.

Meanwhile, Palestinians said Israeli forces operating in the southern city of Rafah blew up a cluster of homes on Tuesday. An Israeli air strike on a main street in Gaza City also killed at least four people, medics said.

Israel’s assault on Gaza has killed more than 37,100 people, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Palestinians are facing widespread hunger and looming famine because Israeli forces have largely cut off the flow of food, medicine and other supplies by sealing the borders shut.

UN agencies say more than one million people in Gaza could experience the highest level of starvation by mid-July.

Israel launched the offensive after Hamas’s October 7 attack, in which its fighters stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,139 people and abducted about 250, according to an Al Jazeera tally based on official Israeli statistics.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies