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The US had opened a consulate in Old Jerusalem back in 1844. But like diplomatic missions of nearly every other country, from 1966 (unofficially from May 1948 when the consul-general in Jerusalem was shot dead) until 2018 the actual US Embassy had been in Tel Aviv, a result of the ambiguous legal status surrounding Jerusalem for more than a century. Under the UN Partition Plan of November 1947, Jerusalem was to have been placed under international governance, which thus precluded it from being considered under the sovereignty of any State. But while this UN plan had been accepted by the Jews and the majority of UN countries, it had been rejected by the Arabs (and all of the surrounding Arab countries) who declared war.
The US Embassy opened at its Jerusalem location on May 14, 2018, the 70th anniversary of the creation of the modern State of Israel. On March 4, 2019, the US Consulate-General was formally integrated into the US Embassy in Jerusalem.
Australia Israel relations
In Australia in October 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia was reviewing whether to move Australia's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. On Friday 14 December 2018, Morrison announced Australia's recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, though there were no immediate plans to move its embassy from Tel Aviv.
This recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was reversed by the ALP Federal Government on Tuesday 18 October 2022. Foreign Minister Penny Wong stressed that Australia remained a "steadfast friend" to Israel, however its embassy would remain in Tel Aviv.
Jerusalem's history over the past century
British forces captured the city from the Ottoman Turks during World War I and maintained control under a League of Nations mandate for 30 years. In November 1947, a United Nations plan terminated the British mandate for implementation at midnight May 14 1948, and partitioned Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state with Jerusalem to become an international zone. While accepted by the Jews, the proposed plan never was implemented as civil war erupted. The British organized their withdrawal and intervened only on an occasional basis. When a cease-fire ended the fighting in 1949, Israeli forces held Jerusalem's western precincts while Jordan occupied the city's eastern districts, including the old city with its holy sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the al Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall.
Click here for more details and to see a map of the UN's original proposal. The State of Israel increased their area by almost 60% of the area that had been allocated to the proposed Arab state. This included the Jaffa, Lydda and Ramle area, Galilee, some parts of the Negev, a wide strip along the Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem road, and some territories in the West Bank, placing them under military rule. With Jordan occupying the West Bank and the Egyptian military occupying Gaza, no state was created for the Palestinian Arabs.
Israel and Jordan soon annexed the portions of Jerusalem they held, with Israel in 1950 declaring the city as its capital, but this accordingly went unrecognized by other nations. In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel captured East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank. Israel later annexed East Jerusalem and reunified the city, again an act that has gone unrecognized by the international community while Palestinian claims remain unresolved.
June 05, 2007
FORTY years after the Six Day War, the consequences of Israel's extraordinary victory are yet to be sorted out. Israel was a tiny Middle Eastern backwater in 1967, with a population of 2.6 million surrounded by a hostile Arab world of 80 million. This disparity seemed to defy the natural order of things and it was a virtual consensus in the Arab world that the Jewish state would fall, sooner rather than later. In Israel itself, the enthusiasm and energy that marked the founding of the state out of the ashes of the Holocaust had been dimmed by the petty problems of getting by in a country with a massive defence burden and a lame economy.
It was the Soviet Union, for reasons never adequately clarified, that lit the fuse that would transform the region. In mid-May 1967, it declared that Israel was massing troops in the north in preparation for an attack on Syria. Israeli prime minister Levi Eshkol offered to personally tour the north with the Soviet ambassador to show it wasn't true. The ambassador declined.
There had been small-scale skirmishing between Israel and Syria over the headwaters of the Jordan and Israeli leaders had issued warnings, but there was no massing of troops. Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, the leading figure in the Arab world, felt impelled to come to Syria's aid. He moved his divisions through the Sinai desert towards Israel, ordered the removal of UN troops who had been stationed there since 1956, and closed the Straits of Tiran (which separates the Gulf of Aqaba from the Red Sea) to Israeli shipping.
Back in 1956, Nasser had blocked Israeli shipping from passing through the Straits. A short war followed with Israel capturing the whole of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. After the US pressured Israel to withdraw, Israel declared that if Egyptian forces would again blockade the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, it would consider this a "casus belli" - case of war. Israel mobilised its reserves.
Nothing happened for more than two weeks. But mobilisation had paralysed the Israeli economy and Jerusalem had to either stand down or strike. On the morning of June 5, Israeli planes, flying low to avoid radar, suddenly rose into the Egyptian skies. Within three hours, the Egyptian air force was destroyed. Soon after, the Jordanian, Syrian and part of the Iraqi air forces were gone, too.
On the third day of the war, the West Bank and Jordanian Jerusalem fell. Syria's Golan Heights followed. The Arab world was stunned, Israel euphoric. The war catapulted Israel into a new era. Brimful of self-confidence and renewed energy, it attracted Jewish immigrants from the West and more than a million from the Soviet Union. Since 1967, Israel's population has tripled to 7.1 million (of whom 1.4 million are Israeli Arabs), its gross national product has grown by 630 per cent and per capita income has almost tripled to $21,000.
A major result of the Six Day War was to persuade the Arab world that Israel was too strong to be defeated. Internalising that view, Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat, became in 1970 the first Arab leader to declare readiness to make peace with Israel if it withdrew from all territory it had captured in the Six Day War. Israel insisted, however, on territorial changes.
It took the 1973 Yom Kippur War to persuade Israel to withdraw from all Egyptian territory and for Egypt to agree to peace without insisting on Israel's withdrawal on other fronts as well.
The Oslo accords in 1993, marking the beginning of a dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians, also enabled Jordan to make peace with Israel without being accused of betraying the Palestinian cause.
In 2000, Syria announced its readiness for peace. Though negotiations with Damascus broke down, virtually the entire Arab world now accepted the legitimacy, or at least the existence, of the Jewish state in its midst.
But increasing radicalisation has brought to the Palestinian leadership a movement dedicated to Israel's destruction. If there is an answer for Israel, it lies, as in 1967, in bold and imaginative leadership — but this time on the political playing field.
Extract: Article by Amos Harel, Haaretz.com
July 14, 2009
Seven years after construction work began on the West Bank separation fence, the project seems to have run aground. Work has slowed significantly since September 2007. With fierce opposition coming from the United States, Israel has halted work on the "fingers" — enclaves east of the Green Line that were to have included large settlement blocs such as Ariel, Kedumim, Karnei Shomron and Ma'aleh Adumim, within the fence. The military has, in practice, closed up the holes that were to have led to these "fingers". But giant gaps remain in the southern part of the fence, particularly in the southern outskirts of Jerusalem, in the Etzion bloc and in the Judean Desert.
Since the cabinet under former prime minister Ariel Sharon first approved construction of the fence, in June 2002, the route has undergone some dramatic changes. The original route, which was inspired by Sharon, was to have effectively annexed about 20 percent of the territory of the West Bank to Israel.
In February 2005, the cabinet amended the route to include just nine percent of the West Bank. In April 2006 an additional one percent was shaved off by the government of Ehud Olmert.
In practice, however, the route encompasses only 4½ percent of West Bank land. The four "fingers" in the last map (and which Israel presented at Annapolis in November 2007) were never built, not at Ariel and Kedumim (where a "fingernail" was built, a short stretch of fence east of the homes of Ariel) — not at Karnei Shomron and Immanuel — not at Beit Arieh, nor south of that, at Ma'aleh Adumim. Instead, with little publicity, fences were put up to close the gaps closer to the Green Line, at Alfei Menashe instead of at Kedumim, at Elkana instead of Ariel and in the Rantis area instead of at Beit Arieh.
About 50,000 people in these settlements remain beyond the fence. West of Ma'aleh Adumim the wall built along Highway 1 blocks the gap in the barrier and leaves the city's 35,000 residents outside of the barrier, forcing them to pass through a Border Police checkpoint in order to reach Jerusalem.
Large gaps remain in the southern West Bank. Between Gilo in south Jerusalem and Gush Etzion are tens of kilometres of barrier, work on which was suspended due to High Court petitions. As a result access to Jerusalem from the direction of Bethlehem (now a part of the Palestinian Territories) is relatively easy — for commuters and terrorists both.
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A second, 30-kilometre gap in the fence, stretches from Metzudat Yehuda (Yatir) in the west to the Dead Sea in the east. The state announced during a recent High Court deliberation of a petition submitted by area Bedouin that work on the barrier there was suspended.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak is "determined to complete the security fence, despite the delays", his office said in a statement. "The minister and the military establishment are working to solve the problems delaying its completion".
Defence Ministry officials pointed out that Barak was "among the first supporters of the fence and did much to advance its construction".
Security officials claim the rate of construction depends on finding a solution to the legal issues and point out proudly that there is an unbroken barrier from Tirat Zvi in the Beit She'an Valley (in Northern Israel, just west of the Jordan River) to the southern entrance to Jerusalem, and from southern Gush Etzion (south west of Jerusalem) to Metzudat Yehuda (south east of Hebron).
Click here for a recent article in 2023 on E1 and Ma'ale Adumim delayed but not abandoned
Unilateral Thinking (an article in April 2006)
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Finally, after years in the planning prior to 2006, construction of an Israeli police station is under way in the now infamous E1 area, 12 square kilometers, a patch of empty West Bank land that stretches from the eastern municipal boundary of Jerusalem to the settlement-city of Ma'ale Adumim, which sits across the Jerusalem-Dead Sea highway some five kilometers (three miles) to the east.
Infamous, because every prime minister of Israel for the past decade has wanted to develop E1 in order to fill in the space between Ma'ale Adumim and Jerusalem, with the intention of securing Israel's hold over the settlement and its smaller satellite communities, which together constitute the Ma'ale Adumim settlement bloc. And every US administration up until now has nixed Israeli development here, on the grounds that it would seriously hamper Palestinian territorial contiguity between the north and south of the West Bank, as well as access from the West Bank to Jerusalem, thereby undermining the viability of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, the only realistic formula on the table for Israeli- Palestinian peace.
Ma'ale Adumim, a settlement of 33,000 residents, has for all intents and purposes become a suburb of Jerusalem, even the Palestinians have tacitly accepted the demographic reality. The Geneva Accord, the unofficial 2003 draft of an Israeli- Palestinian final-status agreement, envisaged the settlement remaining under Israeli control. The competition is over who controls the space in between. The Palestinians reject the notion of a permanent Israeli presence in E1, and consecutive U.S. administrations have viewed this as the red line that Israel should not cross.
Building first started in Ma'ale Adumim itself in 1975, during Yitzhak Rabin's first term as prime minister. And it was Rabin, during his second term in office, in August 1994, who formally included E1 within Ma'ale Adumim's city limits, "or order to create territorial contiguity" between the fast-growing settlement and Jerusalem, according to Benny Kashriel, Ma'ale Adumim's mayor for the past 14 years. That Rabin term produced a general master plan for the area (the term E1 is short for East 1, as the parcel of land was marked on old Jerusalem area zoning maps). In 1997, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet commenced procedures to authorize the allocation of the land to built on, and the Housing Ministry started work on detailed plans. Netanyahu's successor, Ehud Barak, supported the project, according to Kashriel, and the bureaucratic process for the approval of the plans got underway.
Israeli Gaza Strip Barrier
The Israel and Egypt — Gaza Strip barrier is a separation barrier first constructed by Israel in 1994 between the Gaza Strip and Israel. An addition to the barrier was finished in 2005 to separate the Gaza Strip and Egypt. The fence runs along the entire land border of the Gaza Strip. It is made up of wire fencing with posts, sensors and buffer zones on lands bordering Israel, and concrete and steel walls on lands bordering Egypt.
Background: The Gaza Strip borders Egypt on the south-west and Israel on the south, east and north. It is about 41 kilometres long, and between 6 and 12 kilometres wide, with a population of about 2 million people. The shape of the territory was defined by the 1949 Armistice Agreement following the creation of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent war between the Israeli and Arab armies. Under the armistice agreement, Egypt administered the Strip for 19 years, to 1967, when it was occupied by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
In 1993, Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation signed the Oslo Accords establishing the Palestinian Authority with limited administrative control of the Palestinian territories. Pursuant to the Accords, Israel has continued to maintain control of the Gaza Strip's airspace, land borders and territorial waters. Israel started construction of the first 60 kilometres long barrier between the Gaza Strip and Israel in 1994, after the signing of the Oslo Accords. In the 1994 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, it was agreed that "the security fence erected by Israel around the Gaza Strip shall remain in place and that the line demarcated by the fence, as shown on the map, shall be authoritative only for the purpose of the Agreement" (ie. the barrier does not constitute the border). The barrier was completed in 1996.
The barrier was largely torn down by Palestinians at the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000. The barrier was rebuilt between December 2000 and June 2001. A one-kilometre buffer zone was added, in addition to new high technology observation posts. Soldiers were also given new rules of engagement, which, according to Ha'aretz, allow soldiers to fire at anyone seen crawling there at night. Palestinians attempting to cross the barrier into Israel by stealth have been shot and killed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was at war with Hamas after the militant group’s forces poured across the border from Gaza on Saturday October 7, killing over 1,000 residents and capturing over 200 hostages.
Top US diplomat Antony Blinken has told Israel the toll on Gazan civilians caused by its war against Hamas was “far too high”, urging his ally to alleviate their suffering.
More than three months into the deadliest ever Gaza war, Mr Blinken met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv overnight on Tuesday on his fourth round of Middle East crisis diplomacy since the conflict broke out.
Mr Blinken reaffirmed US “support for Israel’s right to prevent” a repetition of the unprecedented Hamas attacks of October 7 that sparked the war, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. But Mr Blinken also “stressed the importance of avoiding further civilian harm and protecting civilian infrastructure in Gaza”, said Mr Miller of the Hamas-run territory where a humanitarian crisis is deepening and local health officials have reported more than 23,000 deaths.
Mr Blinken later told a news conference that the “daily toll on civilians in Gaza, particularly children, is far too high”, and said more food, water and medicine were needed. Israel has agreed to a UN assessment mission in northern Gaza that would “determine what needs to be done to allow displaced Palestinians to return safely”, he said.
Mr Miller said that for the longer term, Blinken in his discussions with Mr Netanyahu “reiterated the need to ensure lasting, sustainable peace for Israel and the region, including by the realisation of a Palestinian state”. Israel “must stop taking steps that undercut Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves effectively”, Mr Blinken said during the news conference.
An Agence France-Presse correspondent reported intense strikes overnight in Khan Younis and Rafah, the biggest cities in the south of Gaza which are crowded with internally displaced people. Israel’s army said its forces had killed 40 militants over the past 24 hours in “expanded ground operations including air strikes” in Khan Younis, and that troops had seized AK-47 assault rifles, rocket launchers and other weapons. “We lost all of our dreams,” said Hadeel Shehata, a 23-year-old displaced Palestinian living in a tent at a Rafah refugee camp.
The Gaza war began after Hamas gunmen launched their unprecedented October 7 attack that resulted in about 1140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians. Militants of Hamas, considered a “terrorist” group by the US, EU and Australia, also took around 250 hostages. Israel says 132 of them remain captive, including at least 25 believed to have been killed. Israel has responded with relentless bombardment and a ground invasion of Gaza that have killed at least 23,210 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
The Israeli army says its death toll inside Gaza had risen to 185 after nine soldiers were killed on Monday. “There has to be a ceasefire, for the hostages, the civilians... all the hundreds and hundreds of innocent people,” Marie-Pascale Radoux, whose Franco-Mexican son Orion is believed held hostage by Hamas in Gaza told AFP in France. “There are no words to explain what you feel... from anger to sadness, anxiety, fear, nightmares.”
Jordan’s royal palace said King Abdullah II would host Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday for talks on Gaza. These would be part of Jordanian efforts to “push for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and ensure the uninterrupted delivery of humanitarian aid”, it said.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, speaking in Qatar on Tuesday, said the October 7 attack “came after an attempt to marginalise the Palestinian cause”. “Despite the heavy price, the massacres and the war of genocide, it (Israel) failed to achieve any of its goals.” In further comments, released later by Hamas in Gaza, Haniyeh called on Muslim states “to support the resistance with weapons, because this is... not the battle of the Palestinian people alone”.
The war has displaced most of Gaza’s 2.4 million people, and the UN says many are at risk of famine and disease.
Rifts among Israel’s war cabinet are spilling into public view, threatening to undermine the country’s military strategy in Gaza at a crucial stage in the conflict. The small collection of wartime decision makers — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and former head of the Israeli military, Benny Gantz — is diverging publicly on the two biggest dilemmas they face: whether Israel should negotiate to end the conflict and free the hostages, and who should govern the bombed-out strip once the war is over.
The divisions in Israel’s cabinet reflect longstanding personal and professional disagreements between the politicians, who came together after the Hamas attack on October 7 that killed 1200 Israelis to form a national unity government to prosecute the war and reassure Israelis. They were united by a common enemy in Hamas. But as pressure has mounted from the Biden administration to limit Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza, and the government has failed to return all the hostages, divisions between the leaders have re-emerged.
Mr Gallant on Monday said that “political indecision” about who would take responsibility for post-war Gaza would hurt the military campaign. In a plan he articulated this month, Mr Gallant has called for Palestinian self-governance and a multinational task force led by the US, with European and Middle Eastern partners, to oversee the rehabilitation of the strip. The US wants a revitalised Palestinian Authority to take over with help from Arab states. Mr Netanyahu, under pressure from his far-right coalition partners to block the Palestinian Authority from governing in Gaza, hasn’t so far articulated a vision for post-war governance there.
“The end of the military campaign must be based on a political act,” Mr Gallant said Monday. Spokespeople for Gallant and the prime minister’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Tuesday that hostages in Gaza would receive medicine for the first time under an agreement arranged by Israel’s spy agency and Qatar. The deal, first announced last week, will involve two Qatari air-force planes transporting French-sourced medication on Wednesday to Egypt, where Qatari representatives will escort the medical aid into Gaza to “their final destinations,” the office said.
Under pressure from the families of hostages held by Hamas and other militants in Gaza, Gantz, the head of the National Unity Party, and his deputy, Gadi Eisenkot, are pushing to enter talks with Hamas to bring home the roughly 130 captives still held in the enclave, according to Israeli media reports widely discussed among political analysts. Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gallant, both in the ruling Likud party, meanwhile say that maintaining military pressure on Hamas will force the group to make concessions, according to the reports.
“There’s clearly a distinction here between the two sides,” said Reuven Hazan, part of the political-science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “If it was up to Gantz and Eisenkot, and tomorrow Hamas made an offer of ending the conflict in exchange for releasing all of the hostages, they would go for it. Netanyahu would say no.”
While the prime minister and his defence minister are in agreement on continuing the war, they are increasingly at odds over who should govern Gaza after it — a question becoming more urgent as Israel moves to a lower-intensity phase of its war and seeks to prevent a vacuum emerging in the enclave. Hamas appears to be seeking to exploit the war cabinet’s divisions. It released a video Monday of what it said were dead bodies of two hostages held in Gaza. A third hostage, Noa Argamani, 26, was shown alive in the video, saying that the two dead hostages had been killed in Israeli airstrikes and calling on the Israeli government to end the war. The two hostages were identified on Tuesday as Itai Svirsky and Yossi Sharabi by Kibbutz Be’eri and the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which confirmed their deaths.
Mr Gallant on Monday said the most intensive phase of fighting is complete in northern Gaza, adding that the Israeli military is close to completing intense fighting in the south, around the city of Khan Younis. It isn’t clear that the entire Israeli security establishment agrees with that assessment. When asked later on Monday about Gallant’s comments, Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari pushed back, saying that fighting in the south “will take us time.” The military had more work to do both above ground and below ground in the vast tunnel network built by Hamas, Rear Admiral Hagari said.
Mairav Zonszein, the senior Israel analyst for the International Crisis Group, said that the divisions in the country’s war cabinet are creating a kind of paralysis that is preventing the government from executing an effective strategy. That, she said, could end with Israel reoccupying the Gaza Strip, much as it occupied southern Lebanon for 15 years from the 1980s. “There is no exit strategy,” she said.
Now in its fourth month, the Israeli campaign has destroyed swaths of the enclave, displaced nearly two million people and resulted in widespread shortages of food and medicine. More than 24,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, the majority of them women and children, according to Palestinian authorities whose numbers don’t distinguish between combatants and civilians. Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas fighters and disrupted the group’s ability to launch attacks against Israel. But Israel hasn’t achieved its initial war aim of destroying Hamas completely. The Israeli military is still seeking to find and destroy tunnels where Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, and others are believed to be hiding.
Gallant is likely driven by a mix of political and military calculations when he publicly challenges Netanyahu for refusing to discuss plans for a day after, Zonszein said. “I think he feels a responsibility toward sending 20-year-olds on a mission that is clearly failing,” she said.
International mediators are proposing a deal to secure the release of all the remaining hostages in Gaza in exchange for a roughly four-month ceasefire. The plan offered to Israel and Hamas would lead to an end to the war in Gaza, Egyptian officials said Saturday.
The new proposal comes as Central Intelligence Agency Director William J. Burns meets in Paris this weekend with the Qatari prime minister, and negotiators from the Egyptian and Israeli intelligence agencies for talks aimed at ending the war, officials familiar with the plan said.
The proposal calls for an initial pause in fighting of six weeks to allow for the release of children, women and elderly in need of urgent medical attention. In exchange Israel would set free a significant number of Palestinian prisoners and increase the flow of aid into Gaza, the Egyptian officials said. The following phases would see Hamas releasing Israeli female soldiers, then male soldiers and human remains, these officials said. In return, Hamas would get international guarantees, including from the U.S., that during the pause in fighting a comprehensive agreement would be reached that would lead to a permanent end to the war that has engulfed Gaza since Hamas militants attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7. Israel says 1,200 people were killed in the attacks and over 240 taken hostage.
Israel and Hamas have yet to officially respond to the latest proposal, which was made in recent days and tries to bridge the gap between the two sides on key issues, the officials said. It doesn’t mean a deal is imminent, they added. Both sides have rejected several proposals made via Egypt and Qatar following the end of the last ceasefire on Nov. 30, but they now largely agree on a framework that includes several phases and a potential long-term ceasefire, the officials said.
Hamas didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Israel is “fully committed to the release of all hostages and to destroying Hamas” and “will continue to do whatever possible to ensure the release of all hostages,” said an Israeli official.
The latest proposal comes as fighting rages in the militant group’s last major stronghold, the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. Israel says that senior Hamas figures are hiding in tunnels under Khan Younis with at least some of the hostages. The war has taken a devastating toll on Gaza’s 2.2 million residents, most of whom are now displaced within the enclave and are facing a shortage of food, medicines, clean water, and other basic goods. More than 26,000 people, a majority women and children, have been killed in the war in Gaza, according to health authorities in the strip. That figure doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.
Israel and Hamas remain far apart on key issues such as when Israeli forces would leave Gaza and when Palestinians forced from their homes by Israeli evacuation orders will be allowed to return, the officials said.
In November, 105 hostages were released, most of them Israeli civilian women and children, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel and a weeklong ceasefire. Around 130 hostages remain captive in Gaza, including 19 women and two children, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office. Some of the women are Israeli soldiers. Five of the female hostages are dead, Israeli authorities have said.
On Saturday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Qatar should put more pressure on Hamas to release hostages, amid heightened tensions between the two countries after weeks of strained negotiations over a hostage deal. “I won’t give up even on a single way to apply pressure on Hamas, or on whoever can apply pressure to Hamas, in order to return our hostages,” he said. “Qatar hosts Hamas leaders, it funds Hamas, it has influence over Hamas.”
The verbal feud has created friction between the two countries, but didn’t appear to deter American efforts aimed at ending the war in Gaza and containing a broader Middle East conflict, stretching from Yemen to Lebanon. The CIA chief’s return is expected to inject new momentum into the talks. Burns has played a central role in U.S. diplomatic efforts around Gaza, and was a key negotiator in last November’s weeklong truce.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected a ceasefire deal proposed by Hamas and poured scorn on peace efforts to end the four-month war in Gaza, vowing to pursue a “crushing victory” instead. Mr Netanyahu said the families of 136 hostages were uppermost in his thoughts but he insisted that continued military action was the best way of securing their freedom, as he predicted the war would continue for months rather than years. In an evening press conference staged after Hamas outlined its ceasefire deal, Mr Netanyahu promised to advance on Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, despite international calls for restraint. “We are on the way to complete victory. The victory is within reach,” he said.
The ceasefire proposal by Hamas included the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza – something Mr Netanyahu had ruled out – as well as further pauses in fighting. He swiftly rejected those demands: “Surrendering to Hamas’s delusional demands that we heard now not only won’t lead to freeing the captives, it will just invite another massacre.”
Mr Netanyahu must balance the demands of Western allies urging him to scale back the war and the belligerence of hard-right ministers who insist the assault should continue and have threatened to collapse his government at any perceived softening of his position. The Prime Minister can ill afford to hold elections since polling suggests he would lose power.
The Hamas counter-offer was made after a week of deliberation amid reports of a rift between the group’s leadership in Gaza and those based abroad. The militia proposed a 135-day ceasefire, split into three 45-day phases. It came in response to Israeli demands conveyed via Egyptian and Qatari intermediaries. In the first stage of the Hamas-envisaged truce, Israeli female hostages, men under 19 and the elderly and sick would have been exchanged for Palestinian women and children prisoners. The second stage would have freed the remaining Israeli male hostages in return for the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Gaza. Bodies would have been returned in the final stage.
El-Reshiq, a member of the Hamas political bureau, said the militia aimed “to stop the aggression against our Palestinian people and secure a complete and lasting ceasefire as well as provide relief, aid, shelter and reconstruction”. A senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, later described Mr Netanyahu’s comments as “political bravado”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there was still “a lot of work” to bridge the gap between the two sides, but expressed hope that a deal to end the fighting was still possible. “While there are some clear non-starters in Hamas’s response, we do think it creates space for an agreement to be reached,” he said. Speaking on a visit to Israel as part of his fifth tour of the Middle East since October 7, Mr Blinken also reiterated US support for the creation of a Palestinian state, something previously rejected by Mr Netanyahu. He stopped short of calling on Israel not to strike Rafah, but added that any “military operation that Israel undertakes needs to put civilians first and foremost in mind”. “Israel has the responsibility – has the obligation – to do everything possible to ensure civilians are protected,” he added.
In a sign of the domestic pressure Mr Netanyahu is under from some quarters of Israeli society to maintain his aggressive approach, hard-right demonstrators who have blocked convoys of humanitarian aid to Gaza will march to Jerusalem on Thursday. The families of some hostages have attended the protests but other families are lobbying for a deal. Mr Netanyahu has signalled that Israeli soldiers will imminently launch a ground offensive on Rafah, close to the border with Egypt, arguing it is the last bastion of Hamas resistance in Gaza.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said he was “alarmed” by the threats made against the city, whose population has swelled because of millions of Palestinians fleeing their homes. “Such an action would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences,” Mr Guterres said.
In Khan Younis, 11km to the northeast, Israel’s Defence Forces killed 40 Hamas fighters.
President Emmanuel Macron denounced the Hamas attack on Israel four months ago as the “biggest anti-Semitic massacre of our century” as he led a tribute to the 42 French victims who died. France was the first country outside Israel to hold a big national commemoration of the Hamas attack. After Israel, it had the most citizens among the dead on October 7. It was the biggest single loss of life for France since 86 people were killed in an Islamist attack in Nice in 2016.
“Their lives deserve that we fight relentlessly against ideas of hatred,” Mr Macron told the families of the victims who had mostly flown from Israel for the ceremony at Les Invalides in Paris. Mr Macron has also promised a memorial for the French citizens who died during the Israeli offensive in Gaza, declaring that “all lives are equal and are invaluable in the eyes of France”.
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