Monday, April 15, 2024

Hope for Gaza Truce Emerges: Biden Says Israel Open to Ramadan Pause if Hamas Accepts Deal

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A glimmer of hope has emerged for a possible ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, with President Joe Biden stating that Israel is open to halting military operations during Ramadan if Hamas accepts a proposed deal to exchange prisoners and hostages.

Biden’s comments, made during an appearance on NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers” on Monday, are the most optimistic assessment yet from the U.S. president about the potential for a truce after nearly 5 months of devastating conflict.

According to Biden, Israel has agreed not to carry out military activities in Gaza during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting and spiritual reflection which begins on March 10th, if a framework deal can be reached to exchange Palestinian prisoners held by Israel for Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

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 told host Seth Meyers.

The president’s remarks point to intensifying diplomatic efforts by the U.S., Egypt and Qatar to secure a temporary ceasefire deal that could pause fighting in Gaza and allow for negotiations on a longer-term truce.

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According to a senior source close to the talks, a draft proposal being discussed would involve a prisoner-hostage swap at a ratio of 10 Palestinian prisoners released for every 1 Israeli hostage freed initially. Under the deal, Hamas would release around 40 Israeli hostages, including women, children under 19, the elderly over 50 and the sick, in exchange for Israel releasing approximately 400 Palestinian prisoners.

Crucially, the draft deal states that Israel would agree not to re-arrest the freed Palestinian prisoners, which has happened frequently after past prisoner exchanges. The ceasefire would also enable hospitals, bakeries and other vital infrastructure in Gaza to be repaired after months of heavy bombardment.

If agreed, the pause in fighting during Ramadan could provide a window to negotiate the release of more than 100 remaining Israeli hostages captured by Hamas during an attack on southern Israel on October 7th last year. That assault triggered a fierce Israeli military campaign in Gaza aimed at destroying Hamas’s military capabilities.

Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed so far, according to Gaza health officials, prompting urgent international calls for a ceasefire.

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Biden indicated that Israel has slowed its attacks in Rafah, a Gaza city near the Egyptian border where over 1 million displaced Palestinians have sought refuge. He said Israel committed to enabling Palestinians to evacuate parts of Rafah before launching any new offensive there targeting Hamas.

“There are too many innocent people that are being killed. And Israel has slowed down the attacks in Rafah,” Biden stated. “They have to. And they’ve made a commitment to me they’re going to see to it that there is ability to evacuate significant portions of Rafah before they go and take out the remainder of Hamas.”

While reiterating Israel‘s right to self-defense, the president warned that Israel risks losing international support due to the high civilian death toll, adding that a temporary ceasefire could be a first step to restarting the peace process toward a two-state solution.

Biden did not call for a complete end to military operations against Hamas in Gaza. But his assessment that a truce deal may be close suggests the White House is ramping up efforts to halt fighting amid a worsening humanitarian emergency.

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With over 2 million Palestinians displaced and vital infrastructure crippled, health experts warn Gaza is on the brink of a major public health catastrophe. Securing a ceasefire during Ramadan could enable a massive aid effort to address the humanitarian crisis.

Hamas leaders have stated they are studying the draft proposal but have not officially accepted it yet. Israel’s government also has not commented publicly on the deal.

Previous ceasefire attempts have quickly collapsed, as both sides dig in on demands. Hamas insists Israel lift its blockade of Gaza and release Palestinian prisoners, while Israel wants Gaza demilitarized and an end to rocket attacks.

But with Ramadan approaching, the religious significance of the holy month could push the adversaries toward compromise.

Biden emphasized that the temporary truce would simply provide time to continue negotiating a full hostage release, indicating the U.S. will keep pressing for a broader end to violence.

If agreed, this fragile ceasefire would be the first real de-escalation since conflict erupted last October. For the sake of civilians facing devastation in Gaza, leaders on both sides must seize this opening for peace.

Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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