White House: Fate of Gaza Hostage Deal Now Rests with Hamas

Hamas has postponed its expected response to an initial Gaza hostage proposal crafted in Paris, as the war cabinet convened on Sunday night. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan conveyed that the next steps in the matter now lie in the hands of Hamas leaders.

Sullivan stated on NBC’s Meet the Press, “It’s up to Hamas to come forward and respond to what is a serious proposal.” The proposal, previously approved by Israel’s war cabinet, had been transmitted to Hamas last week through mediation by Qatar and Egypt. These efforts aim to secure the release of over 130 hostages held in Gaza for nearly five months, including approximately six US citizens.

“We will continue to urge the Qataris and the Egyptians to elicit a positive response, ensuring the safe return of all hostages, including American citizens, to their families,” stated Sullivan.

His remarks coincided with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s fifth visit to the region since the commencement of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7. Simultaneously, US special envoy Amos Hochstein visited Israel, aiming to de-escalate tensions with Hezbollah along the country’s northern border.

Although the specific details of the agreement have not been finalized or disclosed, it is widely anticipated to encompass a sustained cessation of hostilities, the liberation of hostages, the release of Palestinian security prisoners from Israeli detention, and increased humanitarian aid to be delivered to Gaza.

Reports suggest that within Hamas leadership, there is a divergence of opinions. The faction in Gaza seems inclined to proceed with the framework principles of the proposed deal, emphasizing a prolonged pause in the conflict rather than an outright ceasefire. On the other hand, the leadership in Doha is pushing for the deal to incorporate a permanent ceasefire. Media reports from Saturday night even hinted that Hamas might reject the deal based on this particular disagreement.

Within Israeli political circles, including members of Netanyahu’s Likud party, concerns have been raised regarding specific elements of the proposed deal. Many crucial details remain unsettled, such as the exact terms of releasing Palestinian prisoners, including the potential pace that some reports suggest could be as limited as one hostage per day.

During the public segment of the weekly cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu issued a warning to Hamas, emphasizing the continuous efforts to secure the release of hostages. However, he made it clear that Israel would not accept every proposed deal at any cost. Netanyahu urged ministers to exercise caution and refrain from making public responses to unverified reports circulating in the media.

Addressing discrepancies between media speculation and actual agreements, Netanyahu emphasized that certain statements, especially regarding the release of terrorists, do not align with Israel’s stance. He underscored Israel’s commitment to persist in the ongoing conflict until Hamas is eradicated. Netanyahu outlined a three-pronged strategy, focusing on the destruction of Hamas battalions. Notably, he highlighted the successful dismantling of 17 out of 24 battalions, with a continued focus on those remaining, particularly in the southern Gaza Strip and Rafah.

Netanyahu outlined a three-step strategy to achieve the goal of eliminating Hamas. Firstly, the destruction of Hamas battalions, with 17 out of 24 already dismantled, focusing on those remaining in the southern Gaza Strip and Rafah. Secondly, demilitarization after the destruction of battalions, involving aggressive raids in the northern and central parts of Gaza. Thirdly, underground neutralization actions, an ongoing process in areas like Khan Yunis throughout the Gaza Strip, acknowledging that this would take time.

Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor, emphasized the paramount priority of the successful release of hostages, describing it as in the national security interest of the United States. He stated that the ball is now in Hamas’ court, emphasizing the need for Hamas to agree to an arrangement for the release of hostages. Sullivan acknowledged that a deal is not imminent and could unfold slowly until it progresses rapidly, making it challenging to determine a precise timetable.

Sullivan also mentioned that regardless of the deal, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to urge Israel to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza. He emphasized the US commitment to addressing the suffering of the Palestinian people, pressing Israel on issues related to humanitarian assistance. Sullivan highlighted the US focus on ensuring access to essential resources like food, medicine, water, and shelter for the Palestinians in Gaza.

While Israel contends that sufficient aid has entered Gaza, citing issues with the UN distribution system and allegations of Hamas diverting aid, Sullivan emphasized the US commitment to addressing the needs of the Palestinian people, making it a top priority in their approach.

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