Biden says Hamas needs ‘to move’ on truce deal, blaming terror group for hold-up

US president tells reporters at G7 summit he is not optimistic that agreement can be reached soon but hasn’t lost hope, as Washington, Doha and Cairo continue to push negotiations

President Joe Biden meets the media after signing a bilateral security agreement with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on the sidelines of the G7, Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Savelletri, Italy. (AP/Alex Brandon)
President Joe Biden meets the media after signing a bilateral security agreement with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on the sidelines of the G7, Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Savelletri, Italy. (AP/Alex Brandon)

US President Joe Biden said Thursday that he doesn’t expect a ceasefire and hostage release deal for Gaza to be reached in the near future, saying Hamas needs to shift its position closer to Israel’s US-backed proposal on the table.

Biden, attending a Group of Seven summit, said international leaders gathered in Italy had discussed the ceasefire, but when asked by reporters if a truce deal would be reached soon, Biden replied simply, “No,” adding, “I haven’t lost hope, but it’s going to be tough.”

“Hamas has… to move,” he added.

Biden later said the terror group was holding up chances for a deal.

“I’ve laid out an approach that has been endorsed by the UN Security Council, by the G7, by the Israelis, and the biggest hang-up so far is Hamas refusing to sign on, even though they have submitted something similar,” he said during a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky.

He said it remains to be seen whether a deal comes “to fruition.” But he said he remains committed to pushing for the two sides to come together on the three-phase deal he publicly outlined late last month.

Negotiators from the US, Egypt and Qatar have tried for months to mediate a ceasefire in the conflict and free hostages taken from Israel in October, more than 100 of whom are believed to remain captive in Gaza.

Late last month, the president publicly laid out the contours of a deal he said had been proposed by Israel that would freeze fighting and free the 116 hostages held in the Strip in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Despite winning the support of the international community, the offer was rejected by Hamas for failing to contain an Israeli commitment to a permanent ceasefire.

From right, US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida watch a skydiving demo during the G7 world leaders summit at Borgo Egnazia, Italy, Thursday, June 13, 2024. (AP/Domenico Stinellis)

Earlier Thursday, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan pushed back against claims that Israel isn’t fully committed to the ceasefire proposal with Hamas.

“Israel has supplied this proposal. It has been sitting on the table for some time. Israel has not contradicted or walked that back,” Sullivan said. Hamas responded to the plan by offering amendments, and Sullivan said the goal is “to figure out how we work to bridge the remaining gaps and get to a deal.”

Hamas, which initially welcomed the UN Security Council’s endorsement of the deal, says its requested changes aimed to guarantee a permanent ceasefire and complete Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza. The ceasefire proposal announced by Biden includes a pathway toward ending the war and withdrawing troops, but Hamas has demanded that fighting stop before any hostages are released.

Israel described Hamas’s response to the US proposal as a total rejection. But the efforts to secure an agreement continue, according to mediators Qatar and Egypt, backed by the United States.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Hamas’s demands included some impractical changes, blaming it for the war being prolonged.

“Hamas has proposed numerous changes to the proposal that was on the table… Some of the changes are workable, some are not,” Blinken said in what was the first US reaction to Hamas’s response submitted a day earlier.

Students holding images of kidnapped Israelis call on the Israeli government to stop the war in Gaza and bring back the hostage outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 13, 2024. (Menahem Kahana / AFP)

Speaking at a press conference with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Doha, Blinken reiterated that the Israeli proposal Hamas received on May 30 was “virtually identical” to the terror group’s last offer submitted on May 6.

“Hamas could have answered with a single word: ‘Yes.’ Instead, Hamas waited nearly two weeks and then proposed more changes — a number of which go beyond positions that it had previously taken and accepted,” Blinken said.

“As a result, the war — [which] Hamas started on October 7 with its barbaric attack on Israel… will go on,” the top US diplomat said.

Israel’s government has ruled out stopping the war until Hamas is eradicated, though others, including Biden, have argued that the group has been sufficiently degraded after eight months of war. On Thursday, National Unity party leader Benny Gantz, who quit the government and his role in the three-man war cabinet last week, endorsed that view, saying freeing the hostages should take priority over pursuing the final few Hamas battalions.

It is believed that 116 hostages of the 251 people abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza, including the remains of 41 people killed on October 7 or while in captivity. A week-long truce in November saw 105 civilians released from Hamas captivity. Seven others have been rescued, and the army has also recovered the bodies of 19 hostages, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has argued that Israel must destroy Hamas to ensure there is no repeat of the terror group’s October 7 onslaught in southern Israel, during which some 1,200 people were killed, most of them civilians.

On Thursday, Israeli tanks advanced deeper into the western area of Rafah following a night of heavy bombardment, residents said.

Displaced Palestinians walk past destroyed buildings in al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on June 12, 2024. (Eyad Baba / AFP)

Israel said its assault aimed to wipe out Hamas’ last intact combat units in Rafah, a city that had sheltered more than a million people before the latest advance began. Most of those people have now moved north towards Khan Younis and Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military said in a statement it was continuing “intelligence-based, targeted operations” on Rafah, saying forces in the past day had located weapons and killed Palestinian gunmen in close-range combat.

Over the past day, the military said it had struck 45 targets across the Gaza Strip from the air, including military structures, militant cells, rocket launchers and tunnel shafts.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 37,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though the toll cannot be confirmed and does not differentiate between civilians and combatants. Israel says it has killed some 15,000 terror operatives in battle, as well as around 1,000 terrorists who were inside Israel on October 7.

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