Israeli leaders to discuss Hamas response to ceasefire proposal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Biden on Thursday that he will send a new negotiating delegation to ceasefire talks in Gaza, Netanyahu's office said, while reiterating that Israel will end the war “only after it achieves its goals.”

Ceasefire talks, based on proposals put forward by the Biden administration and backed by the United Nations, broke down in June.

“The Prime Minister informed President Biden of his decision to send a delegation to continue negotiations for the release of the hostages and reiterated the principles to which Israel is committed, first and foremost Israel’s commitment to ending the war only after achieving all of its objectives,” the statement from Mr Netanyahu’s office read.

The efforts to revive negotiations have come amid simmering tensions along Israel’s northern border, with the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah launching an unusually large rocket and drone attack toward Israel on Wednesday and an even larger one on Thursday, in retaliation for Israel’s killing of a Hezbollah commander on Wednesday. The rocket barrage has sparked forest fires along Israel’s northern border.

Netanyahu’s cabinet, which includes members opposed to a ceasefire deal, met on Thursday to discuss Hamas’s response to the new truce proposal and the release of the hostages.

Regional mediators, mostly Qatar and Egypt, have sought to revive dormant talks with Israel and Hamas, which do not communicate directly with each other, on a ceasefire in Gaza after nearly nine months of war. The Biden administration hopes a truce in Gaza will allow Israel and Hezbollah, which has fired on Israel in solidarity with Hamas, to reach a diplomatic agreement as well.

The discussions are based on a three-phase framework agreement unveiled by President Biden in late May and approved by the United Nations Security Council. Last week, Qatari mediators sent Hamas possible amendments in an effort to bridge gaps between the two sides. Hamas had sought stronger guarantees to limit Israel’s ability to scrap the deal and return to combat before the second phase of the agreement, which would see a permanent ceasefire.

On Wednesday, Hamas announced it had “exchanged some ideas” with mediators on the ceasefire agreement, saying it was “positively approaching” ongoing talks on the issue. It also submitted a formal response that was ultimately forwarded to Israel for consideration, the Israeli government said.

A second Israeli official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday evening that wide gaps remained between the sides, but that Hamas’s response left the potential for talks to move forward. The official declined to elaborate.

For months, Israel and Hamas, along with Qatar, Egypt and the United States, have held indirect talks on a potential ceasefire and the release of the remaining 120 living and dead hostages still held in Gaza. However, significant differences remained on major issues and talks had been largely stalled since June.

The main obstacles are linked to a fundamental dispute: Hamas wants guarantees that the agreement will lead to an end to the war and a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces, while Israel has vowed to continue fighting until Hamas is destroyed and also seeks to gain control of post-war security in Gaza.

In Israel, some influential members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government have expressed their opposition to a possible deal with Hamas.

“This is not the time to stop, it is exactly the opposite: it is the time to bring in more forces and increase our military pressure,” Bezalel Smotrich, the country's far-right finance minister, said Tuesday. “It would be absurd if we stopped just a moment before the success, the end, the total victory over Hamas.”

On Thursday, Hezbollah launched one of the largest attacks on northern Israel since the war in Gaza began, setting off air raid sirens across the area for more than an hour and sending thousands of people fleeing to fortified shelters. About 200 rockets and mortars and 20 drones were fired into northern Israel, according to the Israeli military.

Since the Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7, Hezbollah, the politically powerful Lebanese armed group, has repeatedly attacked northern Israel in solidarity with Hamas, prompting Israeli attacks in Lebanon. More than 150,000 people on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border have fled, with little idea of ​​when they might return home.

More than 80 Lebanese civilians and 11 civilians in Israel have been killed in the fighting since October, according to United Nations and Israeli government statistics. More than 300 Hezbollah fighters have been killed, according to the group, as have at least 17 Israeli soldiers, according to the Israeli government.

Hezbollah said Thursday's bombing was partly a response to Israel's assassination of a senior Hezbollah military commander a day earlier in the southern Lebanese region of Tyre. But Hezbollah's munitions were fired mainly at border areas, avoiding a broader attack on Israel's heartland that would most likely have provoked a more severe response.

“The series of responses is still ongoing at this time and will continue, targeting installations that the enemy never thought would be hit,” Hashem Safieddine, a senior Hezbollah official, said in a televised speech. “This front will remain burning, strong and will only get stronger.”

Hezbollah has said its forces will not stop their attacks until Israel ends its military campaign in Gaza. At the same time, Israeli officials have voiced increasingly bellicose threats of a potential invasion of Lebanon to push Hezbollah away from the border.

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