Biden says hoping for Gaza ceasefire by next week: ‘We’re close, it’s not done yet’

US official says administration working hard to secure a truce-for-hostages deal before Ramadan starts on March 10, which the State Department stresses ‘depends on Hamas’

US President Joe Biden, left, eats ice cream with comedian Seth Meyers at Van Leeuwen Ice Cream Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in New York. (AP/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden, left, eats ice cream with comedian Seth Meyers at Van Leeuwen Ice Cream Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in New York. (AP/Evan Vucci)

US President Joe Biden on Monday said he hopes to have a “ceasefire” in the war between Israel and Hamas by next week, apparently referring to a prospective truce deal under which hostages held by the Gaza-ruling terror group since October 7 would be released.

Appearing in New York with late-night comedian Seth Meyers, Biden also said Israel had agreed to pause operations over the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins around March 10, if a deal is reached.

“Well I hope by the beginning of the weekend. The end of the weekend. My national security adviser tells me that we’re close. We’re close. We’re not done yet,” Biden told reporters when asked when he thought a ceasefire could begin.

“And my hope is that by next Monday [March 4] we’ll have a ceasefire,” he added.

Biden made the comments at an ice cream shop in New York after taping an appearance on NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers.” They came a day before Michigan’s presidential primary, which will offer a serious test of Biden’s ability to navigate dissent within the Democratic Party over his response to the Israel-Hamas war.

US President Joe Biden talks with Seth Meyers during a taping of the “Late Night with Seth Meyers” Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in New York. (AP/Evan Vucci)

“There is a path forward, with difficulty… the hostages being held must be released. And then we’ve got a — and it’s a principle in agreement (sic) — there’ll be a ceasefire while that takes place,” Biden told Meyers’ show during the taped segment, which aired late Monday.

“Ramadan’s 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, the president added.

“That gives us time to begin to move in directions that a lot of Arab countries are prepared to move in,” said Biden, saying that Saudi Arabia and several other countries were ready to recognize Israel.

Biden, who stressed that he is a Zionist, said the “only way Israel ultimately survives” is to “take advantage of an opportunity to have peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians who are being used as pawns by Hamas.”

“I think that if we get that temporary ceasefire, we’re going to be able to move in a direction where we can change the dynamic,” he predicted, “and not have a two-state solution immediately but a process to get to a two-state solution, a process to guarantee Israel’s security and the independence of the Palestinians.”

“There are too many innocent people that are being killed,” he said, and added that Israel had slowed its bombardment of Rafah and “made a commitment to me they’re going see to it that there’s an ability to evacuate significant portions of Rafah before they go and take out the remainder of Hamas.”

A US official said Monday that American negotiators had been pushing hard to get a pause-for-hostages deal by Ramadan, and top US officials were working on the issue last week. The optimism appeared to grow out of meetings between the Israelis and Qataris, the official said.

Smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on February 24, 2024. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

The State Department, however, was more cautious in its assessment that a hostage agreement that would halt the fighting could be reached before Ramadan, saying earlier Monday, “It depends on Hamas.”

“We believe a deal is possible and we hope Hamas will agree to one,” department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters, adding that “we need Hamas to say yes.”

In public, Israel and Hamas have continued to take positions far apart on a possible truce, while blaming each other for delays.

Several Hebrew media reports on Monday indicated mounting pessimism among senior Israeli officials regarding the prospects for a hostage deal, as Hamas appeared to signal it would not accept the latest proposal.

Channels 12, 13 and Kan news all quoted senior officials as saying that Israel had been told that the framework worked out in Paris by Israel, American, Egyptian and Qatari mediators on Friday “doesn’t correspond with Hamas demands.” Channel 12 said Hamas leaders abroad had indicated there were “red lines” the proposal crossed that they would not accept.

Hamas has yet to present an official response to the Paris proposal.

The Paris framework reportedly involves Hamas releasing 40 hostages, including women, children, female soldiers, and elderly and ill abductees, in exchange for a six-week pause in fighting and Israel releasing hundreds of Palestinian terror convicts.

A key sticking point appears to be Israel’s insistence that any temporary truce deal will not guarantee an end to the war, while Hamas demands just that. Jerusalem has vowed not to halt its efforts until it has dismantled the terror group in Gaza. It vowed to destroy Hamas after the October 7 massacres that sparked the war.

According to a report Monday by Al Jazeera, Israel agreed as part of the Paris framework to release some 400 Palestinian prisoners — among them terrorists convicted of “heavy” crimes.

Illustrative: Palestinians wave Hamas flags in the West Bank city of Nablus as they celebrate the release of Palestinian security prisoners. as part of a deal between Israel and Hamas for the return of Israeli hostages, November 24, 2023. (AP Photo/ Majdi Mohammed)

Citing unidentified sources, the Qatari state-owned broadcaster said Israel also agreed to the gradual return of displaced Palestinians to northern Gaza, barring those of “military service age,” and the entry of further aid and temporary shelters into Gaza, including heavy machinery and equipment.

Additionally, the report said Israel proposed moving its forces out of crowded parts of Gaza and stopping reconnaissance flights for 8 hours a day as part of a six-week truce accompanying the release of Israeli hostages.

The report came after an Israeli delegation headed earlier in the day to Doha, where Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani separately met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.

The presence of both sides for so-called proximity talks — meeting mediators separately while in the same city — suggested negotiations were further along than at any time since a big push at the start of February, when Israel rejected a Hamas counteroffer for a four-and-a-half-month truce which also called for a move toward a permanent ceasefire.

Qatar is considered one of the main state sponsors of Hamas, as it hosts some of its top leaders, including Haniyeh himself, and has donated billions of dollars over the years to Hamas in Gaza.

It has also played a prominent role in negotiations between the terror group and Israel for the release of the hostages kidnapped to Gaza on October 7.

Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (R), ruler of Qatar since 2013, in a meeting with Hamas politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh in Doha, December 16, 2019 (from the Facebook page of Al Jazeera Palestine)

Earlier, a source told Reuters that an Israeli working delegation, made up of staff from the military and the Mossad spy agency, had flown to Qatar, tasked with creating an operational center to support negotiations there. Its mission would include vetting proposed Palestinian security prisoners that Hamas wants freed as part of a hostage release deal, the source said.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri, speaking to Reuters on Monday, said any ceasefire agreement would require “securing an end to the aggression, the withdrawal of the occupation, the returning of the displaced, the entry of aid, shelter equipment, and rebuilding.”

The ongoing war in Gaza began after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, which saw thousands of terrorists rampage through southern Israeli communities, slaughtering some 1,200 people, and kidnapping 253, mostly civilians.

It is believed that 130 of the hostages 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 before 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. One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

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