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Biden says Gaza ceasefire is close and could start next week

A ceasefire could halt a slide in support for Mr Biden among Arab-American voters in the key swing state of Michigan

Andrew Feinberg,Chris Stevenson
Tuesday 27 February 2024 10:15 GMT
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Related video: Babies share incubators at overcrowded Rafah hospital in Gaza

President Joe Biden said a new ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza could take effect by the start of next week

Mr Biden, who was in New York City was asked about the prospects for a ceasefire and pressed specifically on when one could take effect. The president replied: “I hope by the end of the weekend”.

It is believed that Hamas, that Israel has vowed to eradicate from Gaza, are studying a draft proposal that that includes allowing in a significant amount of humanitarian aid, as well as swapping Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the remaining hostages captured in the attack inside that triggered Israel’s bombardment of the strip.

Continuing, Mr Biden told reporters travelling with him that his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, has told him that a ceasefire is “close” but talks are “not done yet”.

“My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire,” he added.

The proposal is the most serious attempt in weeks to halt the fighting, and comes ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, and with international pressure mounting on Israel to stop the killing of Palestinian civilians. Ramadan this year is expected to begin on the evening of 10 March.

Palestinians rescue survivors after an airstrike in Rafah (AP)

"Ramadan is coming up, and there’s been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan, as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out," Mr Biden said during an appearance on NBC's Late Night with Seth Meyers. The US has been involved in talks, along with mediators Qatar and Egypt.

However, a Hamas official has told Reuters that Mr Biden’s words about a halt to fighting in Gaza are premature, and do not match the situation on the ground. The official said there were still “big gaps that need to be bridged”.

Israel has been preparing for an assault on Gaza’s southernmost city, Rafah, where more than one million Palestinians are currently sheltering, having been pushed to the southern tip of the territory, as Israel’s military offensive has moved south. The US – Israel’s staunchest ally – the UK and the UN have all warned against a military offensive on Rafah, with aid agencies saying such a move would be catastrophic, with those inside Rafah having nowhere to turn.

"There are too many innocent people that are being killed. And Israel has slowed down the attacks in Rafah," Mr Biden said, adding that Israel had committed to make it possible for Palestinians to evacuate from Rafah in Gaza's south before intensifying its campaign there.

Mr Biden’s comments came just hours after a serving US Air Force member died after self-immolating outside Israel’s embassy in Washington in protest of the four-month-old conflict, which was sparked by the 7 October terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas.

The deceased airman, who was identified as 25-year-old Aaron Bushnell of San Antonio, Texas, filmed himself and live-streamed it onto the social media platform, Twitch, claiming he was acting to “no longer be complicit in genocide”.

According to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza, more than 29,000 Palestinians have died during Israel’s aerial bombardment, ground operations and a blockade – which has left supplies of food, water and medicine desperately low. Israel’s response came in the wake of the a bloody Hamas attack inside Israel during which around 1,200 people were killed and around another 250 taken hostage.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected as "delusional" Hamas' last offer for a ceasefire, during which all hostages would go free, Israel would withdraw its troops from Gaza and an agreement would be reached on an end to the war. Mr Netanyahu has also rejected a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, which is a cornerstone of US policy in the region.

On NBC, Mr Biden said that a temporary ceasefire would jumpstart a process for Palestinians to have their own state.

In the US, Israel’s military response — which has thus far been backed by the Biden administration — has caused support for Mr Biden to plummet among Arab-American and Muslim voters, particularly in the key swing state of Michigan.

Ahead of the state’s Democratic presidential primary, some Arab-American leaders have pushed for voters to choose “uncommitted” on their ballot to send a message to Mr Biden that they will not support him for re-election unless he pushes for a ceasefire in Gaza.

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