UNITED STATES NEWS

Biden details a 3-phase hostage deal aimed at winding down the Israel-Hamas war

May 31, 2024, 6:00 PM

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)...

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Friday detailed a three-phase deal proposed by Israel to Hamas militants that he says would lead to the release of the remaining hostages in Gaza and could end the grinding, nearly 8-month-old Mideast war.

Biden added that Hamas is “no longer capable” of carrying out another large-scale attack on Israel as he urged Israelis and Hamas to come to a deal to release the remaining hostages for an extended cease-fire.

The Democratic president in remarks from the White House called the proposal “a road map to an enduring cease-fire and the release of all hostages.”

Biden said the first phase of the proposed deal would would last for six weeks and would include a “full and complete cease-fire,” a withdrawal of Israeli forces from all densely populated areas of Gaza and the release of a number of hostages, including women, the elderly and the wounded, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

American hostages would be released at this stage, and remains of hostages who have been killed would be returned to their families. Humanitarian assistance would surge during the first phase, with 600 trucks being allowed into Gaza each day.

The second phase would include the release of all remaining living hostages, including male soldiers, and Israeli forces would withdraw from Gaza.

“And as long as Hamas lives up to its commitments, the temporary cease-fire would become, in the words of the Israeli proposal, ‘the cessation of hostilities permanently,’” Biden said.

The third phase calls for the start of a major reconstruction of Gaza, which faces decades of rebuilding from devastation caused by the war. The 4-1/2 page Israeli proposal was transmitted to Hamas on Thursday.

Meanwhile, congressional leaders on Friday invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver an address at the U.S. Capitol. The invitation from House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, has been in the works for some time though there is great concern, especially among the Democrats, about Israel’s pursuit of the war.

No date for the speech was set.

Biden acknowledged that keeping the Israeli proposal on track would be difficult, saying there were a number of “details to negotiate” to move from the first phase to the second.

One roadblock to overcome during the first phase would involve the two sides agreeing on the ratio of hostages to prisoners to be released during the next phase, according to a senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.

Biden’s remarks came as the Israeli military confirmed that its forces are now operating in central parts of Rafah in its expanding offensive in the southern Gaza city. Biden called it “a truly a decisive moment.” He added that Hamas said it wants a cease-fire and that an Israeli-phased deal is an opportunity to prove “whether they really mean it.”

But even as Biden pressed for the “war to end and for the day after to begin,” Israeli officials have made clear they remain committed to a military defeat of Hamas. The Democrat is in the midst of a tough reelection battle and has faced backlash from some on the political left who want to see him put greater pressure on Netanyahu’s government to end the war.

Netanyahu’s office in a statement following Biden’s speech said that he authorized Israel’s hostage negotiating team to find a way to release the remaining hostages.

But the Israelis maintain “the war will not end until all of its goals are achieved, including the return of all our abductees and the elimination of Hamas’ military and governmental capabilities.” The prime minister’s office also called for the “exact outline” proposed by Israel to be followed.

Matt Duss, executive vice president for the Center for International Policy in Washington, said the Netanyahu reaction suggested the “possibility of daylight between a proposal Israel would accept and what President Biden outlined.”

Hamas said in a statement it viewed the proposal presented by Biden “positively” and called on the Israelis to declare explicit commitment to an agreement that includes a permanent ceasefire, a complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, a prisoner exchange and other conditions

Israel has faced growing international criticism for its strategy of systematic destruction in Gaza, at a huge cost in civilian lives. Israeli bombardments and ground offensives in the besieged territory have killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Biden also addressed those in Israel who resist ending the war. Some members of Netanyahu’s far-right coalition have opposed any deal that falls short of eradicating Hamas and they have called for an enduring occupation of Gaza.

“They want to keep fighting for years, and the hostages are not a priority to them,” Biden said. “I’ve urged leadership of Israel to stand behind this deal.”

Biden in his remarks made no mention of establishing Palestinian statehood, something that he has repeatedly said is key to achieving long-term peace in the region. The U.S. administration has also been working to forge normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the region’s two biggest powers. But the Saudis are opposed to any agreement that does not include concrete steps toward creation of a Palestinian state.

Israel launched its war in Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250. Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more.

Ceasefire talks ground to a halt at the beginning of the month after a major push by the U.S. and other mediators to secure a deal, in hopes of averting a planned Israeli invasion of the southern city of Rafah.

The talks were stymied by a central sticking point: Hamas demands guarantees that the war will end and Israeli troops will withdraw from Gaza completely in return for a release of all the hostages, a demand Israel rejects.

The outline of the new Israeli proposal is “nearly identical to Hamas’s own proposals of only a few weeks ago,” according to the Biden administration official.

United States News

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Biden details a 3-phase hostage deal aimed at winding down the Israel-Hamas war