Hamas cites prospects for ceasefire deal in Gaza

Hamas announced on Wednesday that its “positive” response to a U.S. ceasefire plan for the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip opened a “wide pathway” to reach an agreement. However, the outlook remains uncertain as neither the Palestinian group nor Israel has publicly committed to a deal.

Hamas submitted its formal response on Tuesday to a proposal outlined by President Biden on May 31.

Israel characterized the response as a rejection, while a Hamas official stated the group merely reiterated longstanding demands unmet by the current plan.

Egypt and Qatar confirmed receipt of Hamas’ response but did not disclose the contents. Early on Wednesday, Izzat al-Rishq, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, described the group’s reply as “responsible, serious and positive,” suggesting it “opens up a wide pathway” for an accord.

Another Hamas official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters on Tuesday that the response reaffirmed the movement’s stance that a ceasefire must lead to a permanent end to hostilities in Gaza, withdrawal of Israeli forces, reconstruction of the Palestinian enclave, and release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

“We reiterated our previous stance. I believe there are no big gaps. The ball is now in the Israeli court,” the official said.

The United States has said Israel accepted its proposal, but Israel has not publicly confirmed this. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that Israel would not commit to ending its campaign in Gaza until Hamas is eliminated. Meanwhile, Israeli assaults in central and southern Gaza have continued, resulting in some of the bloodiest episodes of the conflict.

An Israeli official said on Tuesday that the country had received Hamas’ response via mediators, claiming Hamas “changed all of the main and most meaningful parameters.” The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Hamas “has rejected the proposal for a hostage release that was presented by President Biden.”

A non-Israeli official briefed on the matter, who also declined to be identified, indicated that Hamas proposed a new timeline for a permanent ceasefire with Israel and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, including Rafah.

The U.N. Security Council on Monday voted in favor of a U.S. resolution supporting Biden’s proposal. Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters on Tuesday that Hamas accepted the Security Council resolution and was ready to negotiate the details of a ceasefire.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Tel Aviv to meet with Israeli officials on Tuesday, described the comments by Hamas as a “hopeful sign” but emphasized that they were not conclusive.

“What’s more important is the word coming from Gaza and from the Hamas leadership in Gaza. That’s what counts, and that’s what we don’t have yet,” Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv.