Israel pounds Gaza, insists on ‘Hamas destruction’ as US presses roadmap | Israel-Palestine conflict News

Israeli tanks and artillery fire have continued pounding the shattered Gaza Strip and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted on the destruction of Palestinian group Hamas as part of a ceasefire plan presented by US President Joe Biden, raising questions about the prospect of a deal.

During a news conference at the White House on Friday, Biden said Israel has put forward “a comprehensive new proposal” to end the war. The three-phase plan seeks to implement a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that involves the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza and the release of all Israelis held captive in the strip.

Hamas has indicated that it is open to the proposal, raising hopes of a halt to Israel’s eight-month war.

In a statement, the group said it “reaffirms its readiness to positively engage and cooperate with any proposal based on the foundation of a permanent ceasefire, complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, reconstruction, the return of displaced people to their homes, and the completion of a genuine prisoner exchange deal, provided that the occupation announces its explicit commitment to this”.

But on Saturday, Netanyahu was adamant in declaring that for Israel’s war on Gaza to end, Hamas must be destroyed.

“Israel’s conditions for ending the war have not changed: the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities, the freeing of all hostages and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel,” his office said in a statement.

It said those conditions must be met, “before a permanent ceasefire is put in place”.

“The notion that Israel will agree to a permanent ceasefire before these conditions are fulfilled is a non-starter,” it added.

Abdullah al-Arian, professor of history at Georgetown University in Qatar, pointed out a “major contradiction” in the demand, with both Israel and its staunch ally the US saying they do not want a future in Gaza in which Hamas has any kind of political role left.

“At the same time, this is an agreement that would have to be reached through negotiations with Hamas, so, how do you do that? How do you eliminate them as a political force and at the same time reach a negotiated solution that is agreed upon by all parties,” he told Al Jazeera.

Another “major sticking point” to an eventual deal would be Israel remaining as an occupying force in some parts of Gaza, which he said Palestinians have continuously rejected.

Alon Liel, former director of Israel’s foreign ministry, said Biden’s announcement was “music to the ears of the Israelis who want to end the war.

But, there is a “mixed message again coming from Washington,” he told Al Jazeera. “The surprising thing was that [the ceasefire proposal] was described as an Israeli offer. This contradicts many things that Netanyahu said recently; it looks more like an American offer that is presented as an Israeli one,” Liel said.

The armed group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, meanwhile, expressed “suspicion” of the plan announced by Biden saying the “cessation of aggression” must involve “complete withdrawal” of Israeli forces from Gaza.

Blinken lobbies Middle East leaders

Even as Biden presented the new plan, Israel continued its deadly attacks in Gaza, with artillery fire hitting residential buildings in the northern neighbourhoods of Gaza City, killing several Palestinians.

Another early morning Israeli strike in Gaza City also killed a journalist, identified as Ola al-Dahdouh, according to the Palestinian TV channel Al-Aqsa.

Israeli forces also hammered Rafah in southern Gaza with tanks and artillery, while witnesses in the east and centre of Rafah described intense artillery shelling.

In the shadow of the continuous Israeli bombardment, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held discussions with the top diplomats of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey amid efforts to gather support for the new Gaza ceasefire plan.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud received a call from Blinken, during which they discussed the latest proposal, the Saudi state news agency said.

Blinken in his shuttle diplomacy in the region has invested time in involving Saudi Arabia, hoping that the prospect of Israel normalising relations with the kingdom will encourage moderation in Netanyahu’s far-right government.

According to State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, Blinken “emphasised that Hamas should accept the deal without delay”, in those telephone calls from his plane as he returned from a NATO meeting in Prague.

“[Blinken] underscored that the proposal is in the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the long-term security of the region,” Miller added.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s president-elect, Prabowo Subianto, welcomed Biden’s ceasefire proposal as a step in the right direction. He said his country is willing to send peacekeeping troops to maintain a ceasefire in Gaza if required.

“When needed and when requested by the UN, we are prepared to contribute significant peacekeeping forces to maintain and monitor this prospective ceasefire as well as providing protection and security to all parties and to all sides,” he told a security conference in Singapore.

Israeli attacks on Gaza since the start of the war have killed at least 36,379 people and wounded 82,407 others, with thousands more missing under the rubble and presumed dead. Israel launched its assault on the besieged territory after a Hamas-led attack in southern Israel killed about 1,140 people.

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