Biden hopes for Gaza ceasefire, hostage deal by March 4

February 27, 2024 by AAP
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US President Joe Biden says he hopes a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that will pause hostilities and allow for remaining hostages to be released can take effect by March 4.

Israeli forces in Gaza on Dec. 9, 2023. Photo by Eytan Schweber/TPS

Asked when he hoped such a deal could be finalised, the president said: “Well, I hope by the beginning of the weekend. The end of the weekend.

“My national security adviser tells me that they’re close. They’re close. They’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that an Israeli military offensive in the city of Rafah could be “delayed somewhat” if a deal for a weeks-long ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is reached.

He claims that total victory in Gaza is “weeks away” once the offensive begins.

Talks towards a deal have resumed at the specialist level in Qatar, which is one of the mediators.

Earlier, Netanyahu’s office said the army had presented to the war cabinet its operational plan for a ground offensive into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought safety.

The situation in Rafah, where dense tent camps have sprouted to house the displaced, has sparked global concern and Israel’s allies have warned that it must protect civilians in its battle against Hamas.

The war began after Hamas-led militants stormed across southern Israel on October 7, killing 1200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 others hostage.

The war has unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and has killed nearly 30,000 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry, which does not distinguish in its count between fighters and non-combatants.

Israel says it has killed 10,000 militants, without providing evidence.

Separately Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced his resignation as the Palestinian Authority looks to build support for an expanded role following Israel’s war against the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.

The move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up the PA as international efforts intensify to stop the fighting in Gaza and begin work on a political structure to govern the enclave after the war.

Abbas accepted Shtayyeh’s resignation and asked him to stay on as caretaker until a permanent replacement is appointed.

The Palestinian Authority, created about 30 years ago as part of the interim Oslo Peace Accords, has been badly undermined by accusations of ineffectiveness and corruption, and the prime minister holds little effective power.

But Shtayyeh’s departure marks a symbolic shift that underlines Abbas’ determination to ensure the PA maintains its claim to leadership as international pressure grows for a revival of efforts to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

In a statement to cabinet, Shtayyeh, an academic economist who took office in 2019, said the next administration would need to take account of the emerging reality in Gaza, which has been laid waste by nearly five months of heavy fighting.

He said the next stage would “require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the emerging reality in the Gaza Strip, the national unity talks and the urgent need for an inter-Palestinian consensus”.

In addition, it would require “the extension of the Authority’s authority over the entire land, Palestine”.

No successor has been appointed but Abbas is widely expected to name Mohammad Mustafa, a former World Bank official who is chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF) with experience of rebuilding Gaza after a previous war in 2014.

There has been no word on elections, which have not been held since 2006.

The Palestinian Authority exercises limited governance over parts of the occupied West Bank but lost power in Gaza following a factional struggle with Hamas in 2007.

It has been badly weakened over the years and surveys indicate it is deeply unpopular among Palestinians.

But it remains the only leadership body generally recognised by the international community.

with PA

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