Friday , July 12 2024

Israel-Hamas ceasefire could start on MONDAY with remaining hostages exchanged for militants during six-week halt in fighting, Biden reveals

US president Joe Biden has said he hopes a ceasefire in Gaza could start by the beginning of next week.

Speaking on Monday night, he added that Israel was ready to halt operations during the Muslim month of Ramadan as part of any deal with the Hamas terror group.

Amid a spiralling humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territory caused by a Israeli bombing campaign launched in response to the October 7 Hamas terror attack, representatives from Egypt, Qatar, the US, France and others have acted as go-betweens for Israel and Hamas.

Their goal is to halt to the fighting and the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

Asked during an election campaign trip to New York when such an agreement might start, Biden – holding an ice cream – replied: ‘I hope by the end of the weekend.

‘My national security advisor tells me that we’re close, we’re close, we’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire,’ Biden told reporters.

US president Joe Biden (pictured on Monday night with talk show host Seth Meyers) has said he hopes a ceasefire in Gaza could start by the beginning of next week

US president Joe Biden (pictured on Monday night with talk show host Seth Meyers) has said he hopes a ceasefire in Gaza could start by the beginning of next week

Biden, 81, gave more details of what a deal could look like when he spoke on the issue in an interview with late-night US television show host Seth Meyers.

‘There is a path forward, with difficulty,’ he told Meyers when asked about how to end the conflict.

Mediators have been hoping to get a deal in place before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in about two weeks.

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‘Ramadan’s coming up and there’s been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out,’ Biden said.

Ramadan – the ninth month of the Islamic calendar – is expected to run from March 10 to April 9.

Biden has previously spoken of a six-week ceasefire.

The US president said such a deal ‘gives us time to begin to move in directions that a lot of Arab countries are prepared to move’ in terms of normalizing relations with Israel.

‘I think that if we get that temporary ceasefire, we’re going to be able to move in a direction where we can change the dynamic,’ he said.

Biden has firmly supported Israel despite the soaring death toll in its offensive in Gaza following the deadly Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7.

But he has been increasing pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to limit civilian casualties, particularly in Israel’s planned offensive in Rafah.

Israel had ‘made a commitment’ to evacuate significant parts of Rafah before they ‘go and take out the remainder of Hamas,’ Biden added.

But overall Biden warned that the ‘only way Israel ultimately survives’ was to reach a deal that gives ‘peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians.’

Biden commented in New York after taping an appearance on Meyers' NBC show 'Late Night' in New York City's Rockefeller Center, which was staked out by protesters calling for a ceasefire

Biden commented in New York after taping an appearance on Meyers’ NBC show ‘Late Night’ in New York City’s Rockefeller Center, which was staked out by protesters calling for a ceasefire

Amid mounting tensions with Netanyahu, Biden told Meyers that if Israel continued with its ‘incredibly conservative government they have… they’re going to lose support from around the world.’

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Biden’s comments come after his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Sunday that representatives from several parties – although not Gaza’s rulers Hamas – met in Paris over the weekend and reached an understanding about the ‘basic contours’ of a temporary ceasefire.

Israel’s military campaign has killed at least 29,782 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the ministry.

The war broke out after Hamas launched their unprecedented attack which killed 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Biden’s comments came hours before Lebanon’s Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah said it launched a salvo of rockets at an Israeli air control base on Tuesday in retaliation for deadly Israeli strikes on east Lebanon a day earlier.

As the situation has deteriorated in Gaza – where Hamas launched its October 7 attack from – fears have also grown of a wider Middle East conflict.

Hamas ally Hezbollah has exchanged near-daily fire with the Israeli army since the Gaza war erupted in October, but strikes have been largely restricted to the border area.

Hezbollah said it targeted the ‘Meron air control base… with a large salvo of rockets from several launchers’. It said the rocket fire was in response to Israel’s first strikes of the war on eastern Lebanon.

Palestinian men collect wood near a building destroyed during Israeli strikes in Beit Lahia in northern Gaza, on February 26 2024

Palestinian men collect wood near a building destroyed during Israeli strikes in Beit Lahia in northern Gaza, on February 26 2024

Missiles are launched from southern Lebanon towards northern Israel, as seen from the Israeli side of the border, February 26 2024

Missiles are launched from southern Lebanon towards northern Israel, as seen from the Israeli side of the border, February 26 2024

Israel struck Hezbollah targets near the city of Baalbek, killing two of its fighters, security sources said. The Israeli army said it targeted Hezbollah air defences after the group downed one of its drones.

In retaliation, Hezbollah already fired 60 rockets at an Israeli base in the annexed Golah Heights on Monday.

Cross-border exchanges since October have killed at least 284 people on the Lebanese side, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also including 44 civilians, according to an AFP tally.

On the Israeli side, 10 soldiers and six civilians have been killed, according to the Israeli army.

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