Israel-Gaza: Biden hopes for cease-fire next week

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US President Joe Biden has said he hopes for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza by Monday.

His comments come amid reports that there has been some progress in secret talks involving Israeli and Hamas officials.

This included providing aid to Gaza and the release of hostages taken during the October 7 Hamas attacks.

Israel has not commented and Hamas officials have indicated the two sides are not as close to a cease-fire agreement as Mr Biden has suggested.

Qatar, which is mediating talks with Egypt, said it was “pushing hard” for a deal and felt “hopeful” but had nothing to announce.

Israel launched a large-scale air and ground campaign in Gaza after Hamas militants killed around 1,200 people in southern Israel.

The attackers held 253 hostages, many of whom have since been released.

At least 29,878 people have been killed since then – including 96 deaths in the past 24 hours – and 70,215 wounded, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip.

According to the Reuters news agency, citing an unnamed source close to the talks, Hamas is still studying a draft framework drawn up by France that would include a 40-day pause and the exchange of Palestinians in Israeli jails for Israelis. Hostages, at a ratio of 10 to one.

“We're close,” President Biden told reporters in New York on Monday. “We're not done yet. My hope is that we'll have a truce by next Monday.”

Appearing later on NBC's “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” the president said Israel would be willing to halt its offensive during Ramadan if an agreement was reached.

The Islamic holy month begins on March 10.

“Ramadan is coming and the Israelis have made an agreement that they will not engage in operations during Ramadan to give us time to get all the hostages out,” Mr Biden said.

However, a Hamas official told the BBC: “The priority for us in Hamas is not to exchange prisoners, but to stop the war.

“After so much loss of life and property, it is illogical to accept any concession that does not lead to a complete ceasefire, the return of the displaced and the reconstruction of Gaza.”

Last week, the US – a key ally of Israel – was widely criticized for vetoing a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Instead, it proposed its own resolution for a temporary ceasefire “as soon as practicable”, warning Israel not to invade the southern Gazan city of Rafah “under the current circumstances”.

Israel has faced international pressure not to launch an offensive in Rafah, home to nearly 1.5 million Palestinians, most of whom have fled fighting further north in the region.

“Too many innocent people are being killed,” Mr Biden said on Late Night with Seth Meyers. “Israel has slowed down the offensive in Rafah. They have to. And they've assured me that they're going to look at the ability to take out the rest of Rafah before they take out significant parts of it. Hamas.”

On Sunday, the Israeli prime minister's office said it had received plans from its military to evacuate civilians from areas including Rafah.

In an interview with CBS on Sunday, he said Israeli forces would eventually invade Rafah regardless of any temporary ceasefire agreement: “We cannot leave the last Hamas stronghold unattended,” he said.

“If we have a deal, it will be a bit late,” he said. “But it will happen, and if we don't have a deal, we'll do it anyway.”

In a separate development on Monday, Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayeh resigned along with his government, which runs parts of the occupied West Bank.

President Mahmoud Abbas accepted his decision, paving the way for a technocratic government.

Mr Abbas is under US pressure to reform the PA so it can rule Gaza after the Israel-Hamas war ends.

Last week, Mr Netanyahu presented a vision for the region that did not mention any role for the PA.

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