Israel, Hamas deny ceasefire expected on Thursday, as US ups pressure

TV report says Gaza rulers agreed to Egypt-brokered truce; Israeli official, diplomat involved say talks still ongoing; White House encouraging Netanyahu to wind down strikes

Rockets are launched towards Israel from Gaza City (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
Rockets are launched towards Israel from Gaza City (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Reports late Tuesday that Israel and Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip will cease fire on Thursday morning sparked a flurry of denials from all parties involved, while the White House continued applying behind-the-scenes pressure on Jerusalem to wind down the fighting.

Egypt has proposed an Israel-Hamas ceasefire through private channels that would take effect on Thursday at 6 a.m., Channel 12 news reported. The report cited Palestinian sources saying Hamas had agreed to the offer, while there had been no response from Israel.

But it took less than an hour for denials to begin pouring in.

“No agreement or specific timings for the ceasefire were reached,” Izzat al-Rishq, a member of the terror group’s leadership, said in a statement.

The efforts to coordinate a ceasefire — led by the United Nations, Egypt, Qatar and other countries — are ongoing, al-Rishq said. “While emphasizing that the efforts and contacts of the mediators are serious and continuous, the demands of our people are clear and well-known.”

Palestinians check the damage after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, on May 18, 2021. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Exercising similar caution, a diplomatic source familiar with Egypt’s efforts to broker a ceasefire in the fighting, which began on Monday, May 10 with a Hamas rocket barrage at Jerusalem, told The Times of Israel that negotiations were still ongoing and no such agreement had yet been reached.

Several Hebrew media outlets quoted an “Israeli official” who also poured cold water on the report.

However, both Israel and Hamas have vehemently denied reports of ceasefires to end previous rounds of conflict over the years, which nevertheless went into effect shortly thereafter.

The Haaretz daily on Tuesday night quoted another Israeli official who said that barring any last-minute surprises, a ceasefire would indeed likely be reached by Thursday morning.

“There is no decisive [win] and there likely won’t be,” the official said. “Everyone is tired.”

According to Channel 13, Hamas was seeking reassurances from Israel that it would not attempt to kill the terror group’s leaders during the ceasefire — a demand rejected by Israel — while Jerusalem was demanding the terror group hold its fire for several hours while it weighs the ceasefire offer, a condition rejected by Hamas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier on Tuesday said the military operation, now in its ninth day, would go on “as long as needed to restore calm for the citizens of Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Joe Biden (R). (Flash90/AP)

US President Joe Biden and administration officials have encouraged Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials to end the fighting, a person with knowledge of the discussions said Tuesday.

Top Biden administration officials underscored to the Israelis on Monday and Tuesday that time is not on their side in terms of international objections to nine days of Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rockets, and that it is in their interest to wind down the operations soon, according to the official, who was not authorized to comment publicly on the private talks and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The White House has so far resisted international calls for ramping up public pressure on Netanyahu. It has made the calculation that Israel will not respond to international resolutions or public demands by the US, and that its greatest leverage is behind-the-scenes pressure, according to the person familiar with the administration’s discussions.

The source said that the Israelis have signaled that it is possible their military campaign could end in a matter of days.

This source indicated that Biden administration officials have been going further privately in their messaging to Netanyahu than previously revealed. A White House readout of a Biden call to Netanyahu on Monday, for instance, said Biden had expressed support for a ceasefire, but said nothing about the US urging Israel to bring the fighting to a close.

Biden’s decision to express support for, but not explicitly demand, a ceasefire was intentional, an administration official familiar with the call said.

The UN Security Council holds an emergency session on the violence in Israel and Gaza on May 16, 2021. (Screen capture/UN)

Separately, a UN Security Council emergency meeting earlier Tuesday on the situation in Gaza ended without any result, four diplomats involved told The Times of Israel.

The closed-door session was the fourth in nine days held by the top UN body and came a day after the US blocked a joint statement calling for a ceasefire for the third consecutive time.

While the Norwegian, Chinese and Tunisian missions that initiated Tuesday’s meeting did so to increase international pressure for a ceasefire, two Security Council diplomats told The Times of Israel they weren’t really sure why another consultation was held, given that member states knew the US position had not moved in the previous 24 hours.

Norway’s UN mission has continued to call for the council to “speak with one voice” on the escalation in Gaza, but with the US insistent on pursuing its own avenues in order to bring about a ceasefire, the top UN body has been placed in a “wait and see mode” for the time being, one diplomat said.

On Thursday, the UN General Assembly will be meeting for the first time on the same topic and a majority of countries are expected to voice solidarity with the Palestinians, call for a ceasefire and criticize Israel. There is not yet an expectation that the meeting will include an effort to pass a resolution on the matter, diplomats said.

Palestinian terror groups have fired thousands of rockets at Israel since last Monday, drawing heavy retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.

Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, have been killed in the rocket fire from Gaza, and hundreds have been injured.

According to Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry, at least 212 Palestinians have been killed so far in the nine days of the conflict, including more than 60 children. It was not immediately clear if this ministry tally included all of those killed or if there were Hamas operatives not included in the count. According to the IDF, more than 120 of those killed were members of Hamas and over 25 were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as of Monday night.

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