Abbas urges Hamas to seal agreement with Israel now to head off another ‘Nakba’

PA leader calls on US and Arab countries to ‘complete a prisoner deal as quickly as possible,’ as WHO warns IDF operation in Rafah could cause an ‘unfathomable catastrophe’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ramallah, February 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ramallah, February 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday called on Hamas, a rival of the PA, to make haste in agreeing to a deal with Israel in order to save the Gaza Strip from Israel’s military offensive.

“We call on the Hamas movement to quickly complete a prisoner deal, to spare our Palestinian people from the calamity of another catastrophic event with dire consequences, no less dangerous than the Nakba of 1948,” Abbas said in a statement carried by the official Palestinian outlet Wafa.

The Nakba, or “catastrophe,” is an Arabic term referring to the displacement of Arabs during the establishment of the State of Israel and the War of Independence.

A Hamas source told AFP that a delegation was headed to the Egyptian capital of Cairo to meet Egyptian and Qatari mediators after Israeli negotiators held talks with them there on Tuesday.

The Wafa statement added that Abbas “called on the US administration and Arab brothers to work diligently to complete a prisoner deal as quickly as possible, in order to spare the Palestinian people the scourge of this devastating war,” referring to Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

It is believed that 130 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and three were rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military.

Mediators have been working for weeks on a deal that would see the remaining hostages released by Hamas in stages in exchange for a truce. Hamas, however, has refused to agree to any deal that does not guarantee the end of the war, while Israel says ending the war before Hamas is totally defeated is a nonstarter.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on December 15, 2023. (Wafa)

The Palestinian Authority leader’s remarks Wednesday were praised by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who said that not enough members of the international community have been directing their calls at Hamas and were exclusively placing the burden on Israel.

“Hamas has to account for itself as well. Hamas is hiding amongst civilians… in ways that also put them at risk, and so some of the international community’s questions and pressure should be on Hamas,” Sullivan said during a White House press briefing.

“Abbas coming forward to do that today is kind of unusual because there hasn’t been enough of that from enough voices in the international community,” Sullivan added.

Abbas also expressed his hopes that a deal would save the Gazan city of Rafah from Israeli attack, which the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday would cause an “unfathomable catastrophe” and push the enclave’s health system closer to the brink of collapse.

Aid supplies for Gaza provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) arrives at the Arish airport in Egypt’s north Sinai Peninsula on October 15, 2023. (Photo by Ali Moustafa / AFP)

“Military activities in this area, this densely populated area, would be, of course, an unfathomable catastrophe… and would even further expand the humanitarian disaster beyond imagination,” said Richard Peeperkorn, WHO representative for Gaza and the West Bank.

More than one million Palestinians are crammed into Rafah at the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, on the border with Egypt, where many are living in tent camps and makeshift shelters after fleeing Israeli operations elsewhere in Gaza.

The IDF says it wants to flush out terrorists from hideouts in Rafah and free hostages being held there after the Hamas rampage in Israel on October 7 — in which terrorists killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 253 — but has given no details of a proposed plan to evacuate civilians.

The United Nations said that an Israeli offensive there could “lead to a slaughter.”

Palestinians inspect the rubble of the Hasouna family house, which was struck by an Israeli airstrike during an operation to rescue two hostages in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, February 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

“It will also increase the burden on a completely overburdened… health system on its knees and increase the trauma burden and it would push the health system closer to the brink of collapse,” Peeperkorn said.

He said that only 40% of the WHO’s missions to northern Gaza had been authorized from November and that this figure had dropped significantly since January.

Israel has previously denied blocking the entry of aid.

“Even when there is no ceasefire, humanitarian corridors should exist so that WHO and the UN can do their job,” Peeperkorn said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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