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In Israel, step-by-step negotiations for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip

Correspondent in Jerusalem.

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In Israel, step-by-step negotiations for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip

Correspondent in Jerusalem

Considerably weakened in the Gaza Strip, stuck in the Rafah pocket, subject to continuous pressure from the Israeli army, Hamas still intends to take maximum advantage of its trump card: the 133 Israeli hostages it still holds. Insensitive to pressure from the international community, the Islamist movement on Wednesday maintained ambiguity on the possibility of a liberation agreement.

For the seventh time since the start of the war triggered on October 7 by the Hamas terrorist attack against Israel, American Secretary of State Antony Blinken is making a trip to the Middle East. On Wednesday, in Tel Aviv, he was very clear: “now” is the moment when Hamas must accept the Israeli proposal, which he described as “extremely generous”. As for the Israelis, they said they were ready to wait until Wednesday evening.

But Sami Abou Zouhri, a Hamas spokesperson, assured the Reuters news agency on Wednesday that his movement was still “studying” the Israeli proposal. He passed the buck to the American Secretary of State, whom he calls “the foreign minister of Israel, not the United States” and whom he accuses of “contradicting reality”. According to him, it is the Israeli Prime Minister who would seek to avoid the conclusion of an agreement. The last one dates back to November: he allowed the release of 105 hostages against that of 240 Palestinian prisoners. Since then, as the fighting continued and the humanitarian situation deteriorated catastrophically in the Gaza Strip, the negotiations faltered.

Is the statement by the Hamas spokesperson likely to dash the hope of an agreement, which seemed to be dawning at the start of the week? According to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, the Israeli proposal, guaranteed by Egypt, Qatar and the United States, initially proposes a suspension of the activities of the Israeli army for forty days and the release of thirty-three Israeli hostages, at a rate of three every three days, in exchange for that of Palestinian detainees. It should lead to “lasting calm and the putting in place of everything necessary to obtain a ceasefire”. But it does not include the Israeli promise to no longer carry out operations in the Gaza Strip.

However, the Israeli Prime Minister has promised, since the start of the war, “total victory” against Hamas. He renewed this commitment on Tuesday: this means an operation in Rafah, where the last battalions of the Islamist movement would have retreated. The Israeli army says it is ready to take action; the million and a half Palestinian civilians massed in this area, along the Egyptian border, await it with concern.

Benyamin Netanyahu is playing his role as prime minister: his coalition threatens to explode. She is torn between, on the one hand, Benny Gantz, a major opposition figure, who agreed to join the emergency government, but now threatens to leave it if an agreement to release the hostages is not honored. And, on the other hand, the extremist wing, whose leaders put their resignation in the balance if the release of the hostages took precedence over the continuation of the war. So, on Wednesday, Orit Strouk, Minister of National Missions and member of the Religious Zionist Party. In the wheel of her leader, Bezalel Smotrich, the Minister of Finance, she opposed an agreement that “throws into the garbage” the objectives of the war “to save 22 or 33 people, or I don’t know how many. A government of this kind has no right to exist,” she concluded.

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