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Biden signals Gaza deal could come into effect by Monday

Biden says Gaza deal could come into effect by Monday as Ramadan Rafah deadline approaches
5 min read
27 February, 2024
Biden's comments to reporters come as a Ramadan deadline for an Israeli assault on Rafah, as threatened by Benny Gantz, approaches.
In comments made to reporters Biden said he was hopeful a Gaza deal could be reached by Monday [Photo by Tom Brenner for The Washington Post via Getty Images]

US President Joe Biden said on Monday that he hoped a ceasefire in Gaza could start by the beginning of next week, adding that Israel was ready to halt operations during the Muslim month of Ramadan as part of any deal.

Amid a spiralling humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territory, representatives from Egypt, Qatar, the US, France and others have acted as go-betweens for Israel and Hamas, seeking to halt fighting and release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

Asked during an election campaign trip to New York when such an agreement might start, Biden 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.

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.

"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.

Biden has previously spoken of a six-week ceasefire.

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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 7 October.

But he has been increasing pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to limit civilian casualties, particularly in Israel's planned offensive in Rafah, although critics within Congress have urged Biden to use more of the administration's leverage to stop the war.

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".

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".

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.

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The rush to reach a ceasefire before Ramadan comes following comments by Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz, who threatened that Hamas had until the start of Ramadan, 10 March, to begin releasing Israeli hostages or the Israeli military would launch an offensive against the city.

The city currently holds over half of Gaza's 2.3 million people, mostly internally displaced people who have fled from other parts of the enclave because of Israeli airstrikes and ground operations.

Israel's military campaign has killed at least 29,878 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, with a further 70,215 injured according to Gaza's health authorities.

The situation has been compounded by a decrease in aid deliveries into the enclave, with the World Food Programme saying they've had to suspend deliveries into northern Gaza because of a breakdown in civil order.

Aid deliveries have also decreased to the rest of the enclave, with the UN agencies heightening their warnings that Gaza is on the brink of famine amid increasing reports that people are starving to death in the enclave.

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.

The attack came following months of deadly raids by Israeli forces on the occupied West Bank, as well as violent attacks by Israeli settlers, in what had been the deadliest year in the territory prior to the outbreak of the war.

In response to Biden's comments, a Hamas official told Reuters that there were "still big gaps that need to be bridged" before the start of a truce.

According to Reuters, which has details of the truce proposal given to Hamas, the first stage of the deal would last 40 days with an initial hostage exchange seeing 40 Israeli hostages exchanged for 400 Palestinian prisoners.

In addition to the exchange of captives, the deal stipulates that there will be a gradual return of displaced civilians into northern Gaza, except men of military service age, as well as Israel repositioning its forces away from densely populated areas.

The details also cover aid entry requirements into Gaza, with a commitment of 500 trucks a day being delivered for humanitarian aid, and the provision of 200,000 tents and 60,000 caravans for housing.

Moreover, hospitals and bakeries, which have seen extensive damage, would be repaired and reequipped, and heavy machinery would be allowed entry to remove rubles. 

A second phase of a truce is to be negotiated separately with separate arrangements to be agreed upon.

Hamas had initially proposed a four-and-a-half-month ceasefire, with an exchange of hostages occurring in three stages, as well as a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the entry. The terms were rejected by Israel.

(AFP, Reuters & The New Arab Staff)